Why Retailers Can't Ignore the Browser Wars

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What browser are you using?

The answer likely changes throughout the day, according to a new study from Monetatethat underscores a new challenge for retailers. As more sales shift onlineand to mobile devices, retailers need to ask themselves what browsers their customers are using.

What complicates the issue is that the browser wars are still raging, and who will win is far from clear.

In May, web traffic analysis tool StatCounter revealed that Google’s Chrome surpassed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as the most popular web browser worldwide. But Monetate’s study, which focuses on ecommerce sites, suggests the answer to the question changes throughout the day.

During the day, when most people are at work, Internet Explorer still grabs a good share of the browsing activity at ecommerce sites, but the story is much different in the evening when the combined market share of Apple’s Mobile Safari and its desktop version tops both Chrome and Internet Explorer.

During the second quarter, Monetate said the ecommerce sites it was monitoring received about one-fourth of their traffic from Safari, an increase of 9.04 percent from the same period a year ago and second only to Internet Explorer.

But between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., Safari takes the dominate position with a 31.42 percent share of the market. And since shoppers get to choose their own browsers during those hours, Internet Explorer’s share of the market drops sharply, with just over a third of visitors to ecommerce sites using Internet Explorer.

This means retailers need to prioritize making their sites look good in Safari browsers or they risk turning off potential customers during the peak ecommerce shopping times.

When sites aren’t optimized for a browser, all sorts of problems can arise, ranging from text that doesn’t line up to pictures that won’t load, or can only be viewed by scrolling left or right. This can be a big turnoff for shoppers, said Kurt Heinemann, CEO of Monetate, an online marketing technology company.

Q2 2012 Browser Market Share by Time of Day

Internet Explorer 44.46% 40.01% 31.71% 29.93%
Chrome 14.08% 17.91% 19.52% 21.25%
Firefox 15.60% 16.44% 16.06% 18.16%
Mobile Safari 12.78% 11.53% 15.90% 15.58%
Safari 12.48% 13.48% 15.90% 13.95%
Kindle Fire 0.31% 0.29% 0.52% 0.42%
Opera 0.24% 0.28% 0.33% 0.45%
Other 0.05% 0.06% 0.06% 0.17%
Source: Monetate

“When someone is putting in a credit card number and their address, there has to be trust,” Heinemann said. If consumers think the page is broken, they are going to go somewhere else, he said. “There are plenty of options there.”

The shift to Safari also goes hand-in-hand with another important trend: the explosive growth of mcommerce, or shopping on smartphones and tablet computers.

“It’s not stopping, it’s only growing,” Heinemann said.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.