Smartphones have become the top drivers of sales and traffic for retailers, eclipsing tablets for the first time, according to the State of Retailing Online 2016 study by Shop.org and Forrester Research and Bizrate Insights.

Retailers surveyed said smartphone sales accounted for 17 percent of their total online sales in 2015, moving ahead of the 14 percent generated by tablets. Overall, sales from smartphones grew 53 percent over the previous year, while tablet sales rose 32 percent.

But while their consumer use might be slowing, the role of tablets is growing for store associates. Forty-four percent of retailers said their associates use tablets to show customers products that aren’t available in stores. Four out of 10 retailers said associates use tablets to send e-receipts to customers, 23 percent use them to check inventory in warehouses and 21 percent check actual store inventory with tablets.

Retailers indicated that they made minimal investments in smartphone technology last year, with 47 percent saying they spent $50,000 or less on smartphone platforms.

There’s more investment on the horizon. One-third of retailers surveyed said they plan to grow smartphone investments by more than 20 percent in 2016, and 34 percent said they’ll increase their investments between 1 percent and 20 percent. One in five retailers plan to increase their tablet investment more than 20 percent in 2016.

“Retailers are now recognizing that 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.”

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.

“Retailers need to be wherever shoppers are when they’re browsing and buying,” Mulpuru said. “It’s essential to provide value on those devices and in those moments, which are often in stores.”

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