As mobile shopping booms, so do problems

'Tis the season for shopping -- on mobile devices. And for some retailers, that's creating problems.

According to Tom Lounibos, CEO and co-founder of SOASTA, which tests e-commerce sites's ability to handle increased holiday traffic, many shoppers who use their mobile devices are experiencing delays as websites adjust to higher volumes. About 35 percent of shoppers are running into difficulties, and some sites say the problems occur for about 75 percent of shoppers, he said.

"It's higher than what retailers want it to be," Lounibos told CBS MoneyWatch, adding that he wasn't able to discuss specific clients. "Brands are trying to get their arms around the performance element of it. They are still at the early stages."

Many consumers clearly aren't having a good experience with mobile shopping apps, according to trade publication Mobile Commerce Daily, which noted that "a significant portion of retailers are dropping the ball this holiday season."

Mobiquity , a mobile solutions provider, found that 54 percent of consumers say retailers only "meet expectations" or "inconsistently meet expectations," 42 percent of users complained of slow mobile times, 37 percent spoke of an inconsistent experience and 26 percent mentioned a lack of mobile-accessible information.

Unbound Commerce, another provider of retail mobile services, increased its server capacity by a factor of four on Black Friday in anticipation of the increase in traffic, according to Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales. He wasn't aware of any consumers experiencing delays with his clients.

"Of course, the mobile consumer experience is quite often related to the way a mobile commerce site is built," he said. "A mobile commerce site that is inextricably linked to the e-commerce site via responsive design will be adversely affected if the e-commerce site experiences a slowdown due to heavy traffic or some other snafu."

Customers using the Walmart (WMT) mobile app haven't experienced slow service, even as traffic quadrupled between Thanksgiving and last Saturday versus the same period a year ago, according to Ravi Jariwala, a spokesman for the world's largest retailer.

"Our mobile site performed well for customers," he said in an interview. Target (TGT), Best Buy (BBY) and TJX (TJX) declined to comment for this story.

Companies eager to grab a slice of the mobile retailing business don't have much time to act. According to Lounibos, shoppers will wait three seconds at most before quitting a transaction. Unbound Commerce is working on 1-click checkout process with PayPal (EBAY) and Google (GOOG) Wallet to "reduce friction along the path to purchase," Kerr wrote in an email.

Mobile shopping is becoming increasingly important to retailers and is growing at a faster rate than e-commerce overall. Holiday mobile spending this year is forecast to hit $7.87 billion, an increase of 25 percent on a year-over-year basis, according to comScore. Total digital commerce is expected to post a 16 percent gain, the market researcher says.

According to UnboundCommerce, 30 percent off all e-commerce this holiday season will take place on mobile devices, and 70 percent of consumers will research a product with their smartphones while they're in a store.

Walmart is trying to capitalize on this trend. Shoppers can use the company's app to find the merchandise they want in the store where they're shopping. The retailer estimates that 25 million customers accessed Black Friday store maps on their mobile phones.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.