The growing use of smartphones by consumers, a shift in investments by technology companies and continued optimization strategies from retailers has officially landed smartphones on top as a driver of sales and traffic for retail companies. According to the State of Retailing Online 2016, mobile as a percentage of both online sales and traffic is now led by smartphones and not tablets.

Shop.org, Forrester Research Find Smartphones Top Tablets as Driver of Sales, Traffic for First Time.

Specifically, retailers surveyed report smartphone sales accounted for 17 percent of their total online sales in 2015, edging ahead of the 14 percent generated via tablets. Overall, retailers said sales from smartphone devices grew 53 percent over the previous year, while sales from tablet devices grew 32 percent.

According to the report, retailers continue to keep their mobile investments at a more moderate level: 30 percent of those surveyed say they invested less than $10,000 on smartphone platforms in 2015, and 17 percent kept budgets between $10,000 and $50,000. When it comes to tablets, the investments are even smaller. Nearly four in 10 (37%) said they made no additional investment in their tablet offerings in 2015, compared to 18 percent who left smartphones out of their investment plans for 2015; 11 percent of retailers surveyed said they put $10,000 to $50,000 into tablet investments last year.

“Retailers are now recognizing that their customers may not need a bigger, more expansive shopping experience on mobile platforms – they need a consistent, relevant and user-friendly experience that will shape their online and in-store shopping behaviors,” said NRF Senior Vice President and Shop.org Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. “Even with relatively small investments in their mobile initiatives, retailers are seeing tremendous growth in both sales that come from smartphones and the level of customer engagement from mobile across the brand.”

“Retailers are building their mobile platforms with strong customer engagement strategies in mind, allowing their shoppers to easily ‘click and buy’ or research in-store availability,” continued Cantrell. “For today’s consumer, this is all just a part of modern-day shopping; though for retailers, it’s a constant balance of where and how much to invest into the mobile experience and infrastructure.”

That said, the report did find that more mobile investment is on the horizon for retailers. And, it’s clear smartphones are where retailers have earmarked this investment. The survey found that one-third of retailers surveyed plan to grow their smartphone investments more than 20 percent in 2016, and another 34 percent will grow their investments between 1 and 20 percent. One in five (22%) will grow their tablet investment more than 20 percent in 2016.

“It’s the age of the customer and retailers need to be wherever shoppers are when they’re browsing and buying. It’s essential to provide value on those devices and in those moments, which are often in stores,” Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said. “While mobile phones still represent promise, savvy retailers will be leveraging mobile with their customers to positively influence in-store sales as well.”

Tablets growing in importance for store associates

Tablets may ultimately find a bigger purpose in stores, helping store associates provide greater service to customers.

The survey found that of the 36 percent who use mobile devices in stores, one-quarter of those use tablets. Two in five (44%) say their associates use tablets to show additional products not available in stores and four in 10 use the devices to send e-receipts; 23 percent use them to check inventory in warehouses and 21 percent use tablets to check their actual in-store inventory.

Help increase retailers’ sales of tablets by increasing their advertising. AudienceSCAN has the data on Touchscreen Tablet Shoppers to target them effectively. For instance, 9.1% of U.S. adults intend to buy iPads or Android touchscreen tablets in the next 12 months. 47% already use Android smartphones, and 38% already use iPhones, so steer them toward getting more of what they love about their phones. 29% of Tablet Shoppers enjoy working with technology/gadgets in their free time. And 24% want to buy things that help them feel “connected.” What better way to connect than through a new tablet?

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the Audience Intelligence Reports in AdMall.