Mobile Shoppers Fear Nakedness More Than Boredom

It’s no surprise that people are using their smartphones in increasing numbers to buy stuff online. What is slightly surprising is what they’re choosing to spend their money on.

Given that modern mobile phones can effectively replicate the browsing experience on desktops in many respects, it’s not surprising that they’re increasingly being used to shop online. eBay saw more than 2.5 million sales via mobile phones in Australia in 2010.

At a PayPal briefing yesterday, Nielsen senior research manager Lillian Zrim unveiled market size estimates for the main categories of mobile commerce in Australia. Nielsen calculated the numbers by surveying 100 existing mobile shoppers and then extrapolating the findings to a larger group, so there’s undoubtedly some room for debate over them, but they make for interesting data nonetheless. Here’s the dominant categories and the estimated total annual spend in Australia via mobile devices:

  1. Clothing: $20 million
  2. Books: $13 million
  3. Gifts: $12 million
  4. Financial products: $11 million
  5. Music: $9 million
  6. Movie tickets: $9 million
  7. Software: $7 million
  8. Games: $6 million
  9. Collectibles: $6 million
  10. Baby and child-related products: $5 million

The surprising factor in this collection (apart from all that clothes buying and the potential confusion a “gifts” category creates) is that digital goods — music, software, and games — aren’t higher on the list. Most phones are designed to make the process of buying digital items as easy as possible (think of the Market on Android, or the iTunes store on an iPhone), and you might think that would make the category a bigger overall chunk of the space.

One possible explanation pointed to by Zrim is that while there may be frequent purchases of this kind on a mobile, they’re normally for very small dollar amounts. A single pair of vaguely fashionable jeans would cover dozens of app purchases. Nielsen didn’t disclose data on the average size of transaction in a given category, and that might not be meaningful given the original sample size, but it would definitely provide a different perspective.

Are there specific goods you buy more regularly on your mobile (like apps or music), or is it just another browsing device to you? Tell us in the comments.

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