Mobile commerce 'teeny' now, but will grow to 'small' by 2016

Forrester says sees fast growth from a very small start

Everyone knows that we'll all be buying everything -- maybe even houses! -- through our smartphones in a year or two, right?

Wrong. While the growth of mobile commerce is inevitable, it will remain a relatively small percentage of retail sales through at least 2016, according to a Forrester Research report titled "The Mobile Commerce Train: Coming But Not Here Yet."

(Also see: Google unveils mobile wallet service)

In a blog discussing her findings, analyst Sucharita Mulpuru on Friday wrote that mobile commerce will grow to $31 billion by 2016 from $3 billion last year.

Sounds impressive, but as Mulpuru points out in her executive summary of the Forrester report, that $31 billion figure will represent only 7 percent of overall sales made through the Internet. She writes:

While more consumers will purchase more products and categories on their mobile devices over time, retailer investment in the mobile channel continues to remain modest as companies struggle to value the ROI around mobile investments and they cautiously navigate many difficult questions such as how many devices to bet on, whether to partner with third parties, whether to develop an app, how to integrate mobile into store operations, and how to value the impact of mobile on overall sales.

In other words, the infrastructure is still being built and everyone basically is waiting around to see how it evolves before sinking capital and resources into one direction or another. Can't say I blame them.

Interestingly, Mulpuru says the explosion in sales of tablet computers "is probably the single biggest inhibitor" to the widespread consumer embrace of mobile commerce because many people "naturally prefer to shop on the device that has the larger screen when given the choice." (Note: Forrester doesn't count buying something through a tablet as mobile shopping, which I think is somewhat debatable.)

Despite the low numbers relative to overall sales, Mulpuru writes that mobile commerce "will transform retail," mostly because of pricing transparency.

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