But are retailers really ready for the opportunity in mobile commerce?
"While mobile phone and tablet growth rates are extremely strong, retailers continue to lament low mobile phone and tablet conversion rates, particularly for smartphones, which often have conversion rates that are one-fifth of those of desktops," the report said. "This is due to the fact that most retailers have simply 'shrunk' desktop experiences, rather than creating mobile-phone- and tablet-unique solutions that may gain larger adoption. We believe the best and most creative companies will accomplish just that."
Retailers vary widely on embracing mobile commerce platforms. E-commerce retailers like Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) are obviously front-runners. But traditional bricks-and-mortar stores like Macy's (M), Target (TGT), with its Cartwheel app, and specialty stores like Urban Outfitters (URBN) have optimized their selling experiences for the mobile customer. Walmart (WMT) has invested heavily to catch up. Internet Retailer named home-shopping networks, QVC (LINTA) and HSN (HSNI), as top mobile retailers. That said, traditional department stores like J.C. Penney (JCP) and apparel stores have yet to catch up.
According to a recent study by Shop.org (the National Retail Federation's digital unit) and Forrester, mobile is retailers' most important initiative for 2014. Forrester said retailers and online merchants have "three unique opportunities" to take advantage of in the mobile phone and tablet channels.
First, they must acknowledge and embrace "cross-device behavior" by forcing customers to log-in (even if it's through social networks) or enable customers to email links of pages or shopping baskets to themselves which reduces shopper "friction" as they migrate between mobile devices and desktops, the report found.
Second, retailers must create "mobile moments" by creating solutions that "take advantage of the immediate, time-sensitive needs that mobile phones are particularly well suited to serve," Forrester said. The report pointed out that Uber, the car service retrieval app, does that by showing how many drivers are nearby and how long it will take for one to arrive. In another instance, Forrester said Walgreen (WAG) has experienced success with a pharmacy refill feature on its mobile app.
Finally, retailers must understand and offer consumers ways to use mobile phones while in stores, such as assisting in finding out-of-stock products, paying for products when a queue is long, or retrieving a coupon or loyalty card number for shoppers.
"Retailers that effectively address customer needs with innovative solutions are likely to see greater mobile phone usage and transaction volume as a result," the report said.
A separate Forrester report on Monday forecasts that U.S. online retail sales will total $294 billion by the end of 2014. That figure will rise to $414 billion by 2018. The two main categories of apparel/accessories and consumer electronics will drive 25% of this year's total e-commerce volume. Still, online sales will represent just 9% of total retail sales in 2014, according to Forrester.
E-commerce sales as measured by the U.S. Department of Commerce totaled $263.3 billion last year, up 16.9% from 2012, but just 5.8% of total retail sales for 2013. The Commerce Department's first quarter e-commerce sales data will be released on Thursday.
--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.