A new report from Adobe pins hopes on the smartphone for continued web growth for retailers.

Traffic to websites is holding steady, but consumers increasingly get to the sites they seek via their smartphones, and that trend shows no signs of abating, according to Adobe Digital Insights, which has updated its mobile metrics with data from the second quarter.

Smartphone activity on the web has surged in the past two years. Desktops still account for a big chunk of traffic, but mobile visits to retail sites have risen 66% since 2015 and as of Q2 of 2017 account for 54% of web visits for large retail websites, up from 33% a year ago, Adobe says. Large retail websites are defined as “Adobe’s biggest clients,” like ShopDirect, Tumi and Dior, based on web visits.

The pace of innovation in the smartphone market is helping to drive that increase, and tablet visits are declining, says Taylor Schreiner, director at Adobe Digital Insights. In retail especially, high-definition screens on smartphones may be tied to higher conversion rates.

“Each generation of the smartphone has provided useful features that have nothing to do with its traditional use,” he says. “We’re seeing some early evidence that high-definition screens on the same size phone may outperform standard-definition screens in terms of conversion [placing orders]. As with TVs, better resolution provides a better overall experience and that should translate into improved metrics. Given that high-definition phones are new and expensive, we may simply be observing the habits of well-to-do early adopters who spend more on smartphones by design.”

However, visits to retail sites from tablets are shrinking, down 34% since 2015. The larger-screened device now account for just 9% of retail visits about 14% a year ago. When tablets are removed from mobile visits data, consumers still use desktops more frequently than smartphones, but the 19% decline in desktop visits since 2015 shows that consumers are increasingly comfortable using their smartphones to surf the web.


In just the past year, smartphone visits to retail sites increased 31%, second only to web traffic growth to national news sites at 51%. However, apps are struggling compared with the mobile web, which is accessed through native browsers or the in-app browsers of social media apps. Branded app launches have declined 22% for large companies across all industries since January 2016.

“There are two likely contributors: better experiences when browsing and finding information quickly the effect of ‘one-brand loyalty,’” Schreiner says. “Industries where consumers have a relationship with just one brand [such as financial services] tend to have sustained or growing app usage, whereas other industries don’t. So, if a brand isn’t the ‘one-and-only,’ then browsing can suffice to get the job done. Not to say there aren’t any growing apps, but the overall trend is declining. Apps served a useful purpose, but their differentiation from what modern browsing can provide is narrowing.”

As retail sites deploy such technologies like HTML5, which  is a standard web programming language, and mobile-optimized pages, consumers become more comfortable shopping on the mobile web than downloading apps, according to Adobe. The reliance on the web is a good trend for retailers, as they can use similar strategies across both mobile and desktop devices, the latter of which still account for 46% of web traffic.

The crossover between mobile and desktop web helps in search marketing in particular, where 65% of retail’s visits come from paid search, the only industry for which that is true. But creating sites that load faster and are easier to navigate also boost conversions for both mobile and desktop visitors.

“Smartphones are becoming the de facto device of choice for consumers, for browsing and beyond,” Schreiner says. “Companies that follow [consumers’] lead by focusing on those visits and experiences appear to be increasing top-line visit growth. There are few advantages to large and stationary screens when it comes to browsing. The challenge still remains when it comes to conducting business or dealing with sensitive information.”