Record online holiday sales seen as mobile drives growth

Mobile Buying

Emarketer Inc. estimates that Web-based sales completed on phones will rise 53 percent in the U.S. this November and December and make up 5.2 percent of Internet buying. By 2015, mobile purchases will contribute 9.5 percent.

Photo-sharing sites such as Pinterest Inc. that invite users to “like” and share products -- from dress shoes to iron bed frames -- are helping to fuel growth in online sales, Lipsman said. The company has about 25 million users, four times what it had heading into the holiday season last year.

While shoppers still have to leave some social sites to buy items, services like Pinterest -- and more recent copycats such as Svpply Inc. and Thing Daemon Inc.’s thefancy.com -- can turn visitors into buyers by letting them see what their friends and style idols are buying.

“For a long time, we kind of talked about social commerce,” Lipsman said. “People would be making product recommendations on Facebook and Twitter, but what really is starting to hit this theme on the head is Pinterest.”

Social Shopping

Almost a quarter of online shoppers take advantage of offers delivered via social media, according to a holiday retail report by American Express Co., the biggest U.S. credit-card issuer by purchases.

CafePress Inc., which sells customized items such as T- shirts and coffee mugs, keeps a close eye on what images, buzzwords and products wax and wane in popularity on social- media websites to decide what to sell.

“All of our content is socially curated, so we have to really watch for what is emerging,” CafePress Chief Executive Officer Bob Marino said in an interview.

Shoppers have also developed a habit known as showrooming: inspecting an item in a physical store and then searching online for a lower price. About one third of shoppers do this, according to ComScore.

Showrooming has been made possible by smartphones and tablets, as more people browse the aisles at stores such as Target Corp. and Macy’s Inc. and instantly look up competing online prices.

Compared with last year, holiday shoppers this year are seeking more deals on smartphones, using more applications that scan bar codes for price comparisons and accessing more discounts through mobile apps, according to American Express.

Amazon.com’s “Price Check” app lets users scan a bar code with a smartphone camera, which then calls up the online retailer’s price. Users can then move the item to a shopping cart or order it on the spot.

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