A report from Forrester Research Inc., titled "U.S. Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2015 to 2020," found e-commerce sales in the United States should reach $523 billion by the end of this decade, Internet Retailer reported. This number is up 56 percent from $335 million in 2015. Forrester Research expects online sales to grow at a rate of 9.32 percent over the next five years.

The report said 244 million customers shopped online in 2015, and it expects 26 million more will browse and make e-commerce payments by 2020. This addition will bring the total number of Internet shoppers to 270 million.

Mobile: the key to e-commerce sales
The report cited mobile shopping as the driving factor for sales on all platforms, said Internet Retailer. During 2015, tablets and smartphones influenced over $1 trillion in online and offline purchases.

"Screen sizes for mobile phones have gradually increased in size and wireless networks are better than before, which has made web browsing easier than ever," Principal Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru wrote in the report, according to Internet Retailer. "Additionally, consumers are more accustomed to using their phones everywhere and shopping is a byproduct of that ubiquity."

Businesses must be ready for smartphones
Most businesses understand the importance of having a website optimized for mobile. Those that don't lose out on sales, especially from millennials.

According to the "2015 Mobile Holiday Shopping Survey," a collaborative report by Harris Poll and application performance management software company Dynatrace, 81 percent of millennials surveyed said they would not use a buggy mobile application for their holiday shopping. They would go elsewhere, likely another site or retail store. Survey answers indicate 32 percent of all users would not attempt to use a mobile site or application again if it failed to work properly the first time. Fifty-one percent said they would complain about the experience on social media. This could be devastating for companies relying on their online presence and word-of-mouth marketing.

Bugs aren't the only deterrent – slow speeds also drive customers away. Forty-nine percent said they leave a website or application that takes more than 3 seconds to finish loading.

Applications versus mobile websites
Still, millennials do want to purchase with their phones. One key finding in the Dynatrace report was over half of millennials – 54 percent – said they prefer using applications for shopping over a business's mobile website. They believe the apps perform better and provide a nicer user experience. They're also easier to access, requiring a simple few finger taps as opposed to opening a mobile browser and typing a URL.

For a while, a company's only option was to present users with a website optimized for smartphones and tablets. These were either completely separate pages or used responsive design to adapt layouts based on screen size. Now, mobile applications are easier and cheaper to develop. They allow your business to stand out and provide a more space as parts of the screen aren't taken up by browser navigation elements.

If your company plans on creating an application, keep the user interface simple and uncluttered. Your app must first and foremost easy to see and use. Large buttons and clear navigation reduce the number of accidental clicks and diminish customer frustration. Meanwhile, a creative layout sets your app apart from the competition.

There are some consumers reluctant to download apps even if they're easier to use. Multichannel Merchant suggested providing something extra to enhance the experience, convincing shoppers to forgo some of their phone's storage space for your business. For example, the Apple Store, where iPhone and iPad owners purchase applications, also provides the ability to set up appointments at the nearest Genius Bar.

Still, as the Dynatrace report indicated, performance is what's most important. Mobile apps need to be able to handle thousands of users at one time, Multichannel Merchant said. They also must be designed for speed – the website suggested using intelligent data distribution so redundant information isn't sent to users.

E-commerce sales have increased as the years past, with more consumers comfortable submitting online payments. Millennials and mobile phones are expected to drive the majority of these payments, so businesses should make certain they've created responsive, easy-to-use mobile sites and applications.

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