If stores seem a little less crowded this holiday season, tablets and smartphones are likely to blame. The volume of e-commerce payments made via mobile devices surged during what some are now calling the "Cyber Five" shopping days—from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.

The big jump in purchases through tablets and smartphones this holiday season is not surprising, considering major retailers are embracing e-commerce and mobile devices to increase sales and to counteract "showrooming"—the practice of perusing products in a store and then using smartphones to comparison-shop at other stores or make a purchase from an online merchant, says Scott Strumello of New York- and London-based Auriemma Consulting Group.

"Mobile has a significant role to play now," Strumello says. "Originally, retailers weren’t quite sure about it, but now they’re seeing it as a way to avoid losing a potential sale."

IBM reports that the nation made Cyber Monday the biggest online shopping day in history with a 20.6% increase in sales, with mobile sales leading the way with more than 17% of total sales, or an increase in mobile device use of 55.4% over last year.

Cyber Monday capped the biggest five-day online shopping sales period on record, starting on Thanksgiving Day, according to IBM. Smartphones drove 19.7% of online traffic compared to tablets at 11.5%, IBM says.

However, tablets drove 11.7% of all online sales; more than double that of smartphones, which accounted for 5.5%. On average, IBM says, tablet users spent $126.30 per order, compared to smartphone users who spent $106.49.

Mobile Gained On Black Friday

It wasn’t just on Cyber Monday that mobile shopping surged—shopping with mobile devices increased significantly on Black Friday, too, says Stacy General, a PayPal customer experience advocate.

"As consumers continue to look for ways to avoid waiting in lines, many are turning to their smartphones or tablets to make holiday purchases," General says.

PayPal’s data shows that twice as many consumers shopped through PayPal on their mobile devices on Black Friday this year in 2012. Overall, global mobile payments for Black Friday 2013 increased 121% compared to 2012, she says.

PayPal data shows shoppers may also extend their shopping after a day at the mall, as most of the payments made through PayPal took place between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Black Friday, General notes.

Other companies or associations monitoring e-commerce during the stretch that opens the holiday shopping season indicate consumers used tablets and smartphones for nearly half of all online purchases.

ComScore, a firm that tracks digital technology, proclaimed Black Friday the first billion-dollar-plus day of the holiday season for desktop online shopping at $1.2 billion, or a 15% increase over last year’s $1.04 billion. And Visa Inc. reported its accountholders spent $2.6 billion in e-commerce sales on Cyber Monday through smartphones, tablets or PCs, 28% more than last year.

The holiday season’s heavy shopping days provide "a learning experience" for retailers and consumers about how to shop online or on mobile devices, Strumello says.

Purchases through mobile devices represent a "channel that is here to stay," as retailers and wallet providers will look at the data from the holiday season and determine how to make such trends carry over year-round, Strumello says.

But retailers must continue to provide easy-to-use websites, says Aaron Rudger, senior manager of Web performance at San Mateo, Calif.-based Keynote Systems.

Keynote monitors the speed of online transactions, citing it as a key factor for consumers using desktop or mobile devices for holiday cybershopping. In a survey of consumers in 2012, Keynote found that the majority of smartphone users expect delivery of a Web page in four seconds or less, and tablet users cited three seconds or less.

Ultimately, consumers using a mobile device to "go through the journey of finding the right product and initiating a transaction," would like to see it completed in about 15 seconds, Rudger says.

"The ‘switching costs’ for consumers on Cyber Monday to go from one site to another is extremely low," Rudger says. "If they can’t find a product on one site, or get delayed, they can easily switch over to another site."

Such a scenario can cause problems for retailers who experience delays on their sites because of heavy traffic, he contends.

"This is not like the government healthcare site, which was the only game in town," Rudger says. "The retail space is very competitive, and the consumer will just go away [if unhappy]."

Keynote reported that some retail sites suffered slowdowns during Cyber Monday shopping, but shoppers found ways to get in record-breaking online purchases.

Such results are gratifying for the backers of Google and Isis mobile wallets, as well as retailers in the Merchant Customer Exchange initiative that are working on a model for a mobile commerce.

"It is an opportunity because as consumers go through this online journey, they want speed in payment," Rudger says. "The mobile payment providers can do that quickly."

San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe released its digital index of online shopping data, revealing that Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday saw record online sales with $1.062 billion and $1.93 billion, respectively. For the first time, more than 24% of online sales occurred on smartphones and tablets, a record increase of 118% year-over-year.

Apple Outstripping Android

Apple-brand smartphones and tablets drove more than $543 million dollars in online sales, with iPad taking a 77% share of activity, Adobe says. Android devices were responsible for $148 million in online sales, a nearly 5% share of mobile online sales.

"Online shopping data shows that consumers took full advantage of their mobile devices to shop on Thanksgiving Day and ‘omnishop’ while in stores on Black Friday," Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst for Adobe Digital Index, states in a press release.

"In an attempt to play every angle possible, retailers poured money into new mobile capabilities by adding Wi-Fi to key stores, expanding mobile app offerings, and optimizing websites for easier transactions from small screens," Gaffney says.

"Thoughts of shopping overshadowed the holiday itself, as social conversations containing the term ‘Black Friday’ received more mentions than ‘Thanksgiving Day,’ " she says.

Seattle-based Mercent, a company specializing in online advertising and promotions, says retail sales were strong on Cyber Monday for retailers using its services. The company’s eCommerce Performance Index indicates the nation’s online sales grew 33% on a same-seller basis over last year’s Cyber Monday.

Google Shopping outpaced Amazon same-seller sales during the Thanksgiving-Black Friday period. Savvy shoppers continue to leverage full tablet and smartphone capabilities to ensure they get the best deals while shopping both on and offline, Eric Best, chairman and CEO of Mercent, states in a press release.

Retail sales figures show Google’s investments position the search-engine giant as a formidable competitor to other leading channels, including Amazon.com, Best says.

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