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Shoppers are crazy about mobile — but that isn't a good thing for retailers

Person on smart phone looking at phone application
Chris Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Shoppers will rush to their smartphones this holiday — but that isn't necessarily a good thing for retailers.

According to Adobe's Digital Insights, online sales are expected to grow at a slower clip this holiday, with mobile traffic seen exceeding visits from desktop computers for the first time.

But while smartphones are grabbing a larger chunk of consumers' clicks, they've failed to follow through on sales. While Adobe expects mobile will account for a 53 percent share of digital traffic, mobile revenues are seen grabbing just a 34 percent share.

While some of that shortfall is likely the result of consumers browsing online before making a purchase in-store, Adobe's Tamara Gaffney said much of it can be attributed to a subpar shopping experience on these small devices and often difficult-to-navigate sites.

Overall, Adobe predicts online sales will increase 11 percent this holiday, to $91.6 billion. That would be just shy of last season's 12.7 percent growth.

"The biggest problem is that [people] just don't buy [on mobile]," Gaffney said. "With the whole season going majority mobile, that's going to be the big challenge."

Even when shoppers do make purchases on mobile devices, they don't spend as much money. While the average order value on desktop computers is $155, it's just $120 on smartphones. Experts have long said that shoppers are hesitant to pull the trigger on pricier items from these smaller devices, because it's harder to see the product details.

Thanksgiving, a day when many retailers' stores are closed, is once again expected to be the busiest day for mobile devices. Yet Cyber Monday and Black Friday are growing at a faster rate, despite their origination as days meant to serve desktop and in-store visits, respectively.

Gaffney attributed that shift to morning email marketing campaigns, which allow shoppers to complete transactions "before our feet hit the ground."

"Even the pure-play retailers that don't have a storefront, they're competing on Black Friday and Thanksgiving now," she said.

Though digital sales are expected to slow, Adobe is still calling for a series of record-breaking events this season. That includes 57 billion-dollar sales days, up from 31 last year. Online sales on Thanksgiving are seen hitting $2 billion for the first time this year, while Black Friday is expected to top $3 billion for the first time.

And while Cyber Monday's growth is seen slowing to 9.4 percent, Adobe predicts it will once again break a record as the largest-ever online sales day, raking in $3.36 billion. These projected gains bode well for Amazon, which Forrester estimates accounted for some 60 percent of all online sales growth in the U.S. last year.

Similar to last season, Adobe predicts a big spike in online shopping will come late in the season, as consumers take advantage of retailers' tighter shipping windows and in-store pickup options. A separate survey by JDA found that 46 percent of shoppers have picked up an online order from a store over the past year, a nearly 33 percent increase from the prior year.