So, clearly, it’s not a passing fad. Clever use of mobile apps by retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart is driving more consumers to mobile shopping. Wal-Mart’s mobile time spent doubled in a month with the release of a key new app feature.

When two-thirds of the time consumers spend with online retail occurs on smartphones and tablets, even the least savvy retailer should get the point: Mobile commerce is a powerful force in the realm of web shopping.

66% of time spent with online retail in September 2014 occurred on mobile devices, web and mobile measurement firm comScore Inc. reports. That’s up from 52% in March 2013, when comScore first began measuring online retail time spent on desktops, tablets and smartphones.

“There is no doubt: Mobile is changing the way people shop,” says Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at comScore.

What’s driving increased time spent shopping on mobile devices? Lipsman cites three factors. First, consumers simply are becoming more and more comfortable with each passing month with shopping on smartphones and tablets, he says. It took years for consumers to become comfortable shopping on the Internet (many still are not). Second, retailers are doing a significantly better job of fashioning mobile shopping experiences that make it easier and more fun to shop on mobile devices, he adds.

That leads to factor three: mobile apps. Consumers prefer mobile apps over the mobile web, comScore and other research shows, and are spending an increasing amount of their Internet time in mobile apps, which, because they reside on a mobile device and can make full use of a device’s features and functions, provide better experiences than can be found on a mobile web site. 42% of 2014 mobile commerce sales among the 500 leading retailers in m-commerce worldwide will stem from mobile apps, according to the 2015 Internet Retailer Mobile 500.

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Lipsman says two perfect examples of retailers knocking it out of the park with an app are Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. After Target debuted its super-popular Cartwheel mobile coupons app, Target app usage shot up: In September 2013, 79% of time spent with Target mobile was in a browser and 21% in an app; in September 2014, suddenly only 32% of time spent with Target mobile was in a browser and a big 68% was spent in an app, comScore finds.

And when Wal-Mart integrated its Savings Catcher automatic price-difference refund feature in its mobile app, like Target, it saw a big change: App traffic more than doubled in a month, comScore finds.

Consumers can expect to see larger retailers place a greater emphasis on mobile apps, building on the success of Target Cartwheel and Wal-Mart Savings Catcher, comScore says.

174 million U.S. consumers (72%) now own smartphones and 93 million (38%) now own tablets, comScore finds.

Follow Bill Siwicki, editor of the 2015 Internet Retailer Mobile 500 and managing editor, mobile commerce, at Internet Retailer, at @IRmcommerce.

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