For the first time ever, the proportion of consumers interacting with email on smartphones or tablets alone hit 50 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to a new study from Yesmail Interactive.

In its latest Email Marketing Compass report, Yesmail, Yes Lifecycle Marketing’s email marketing solutions provider, analyzed 6.4 billion emails sent in Q4 on behalf of clients across different industries. Within one quarter, the percentage of consumers interacting with email exclusively on mobile devices spiked, email-generated mobile sales increased at triple the rate of desktop sales (52 percent vs. 18 percent), and the number of mobile orders went up by 58 percent. These findings indicate that marketers should consider mobile’s role in path to purchase as consumers are becoming more comfortable purchasing via smartphones and tablets, the company said.

"In quarters past, marketers have been embracing mobile as a variable in the consumer journey. Now, mobile should be marketers' primary focus," said Michael Fisher, president of Yes Lifecycle Marketing. "The increase in mobile sales indicates that consumers are not only more comfortable with mobile, but more comfortable with immediately acting on emails opened on a mobile device."

Growth in mobile conversion rate (orders compared to clicks) outpaced the desktop conversion rate by more than two to one. In total, one in five purchases driven by email happened on a mobile device (18 percent compared to 82 percent for desktops). Of these mobile orders, 59 percent took place on a tablet and 41 percent, on a smartphone.

Consumers' increasing tendency to open emails on one type of device has led to a decline in "hybrid" viewership, where consumers may open an email on a mobile device and view it again on a desktop (or vice versa). Hybrid viewership dropped almost 40 percent in a quarter, while the number of mobile-only subscribers grew by over 60 percent from June to December 2013. In addition, perhaps due to the holiday season, repeat purchase rate increased by 17 percent for desktops and 2 percent for mobile.

"The holiday season gave marketers a reason to implement mobile-first strategies. Now, the challenge will be to sustain the increased level of clicks and purchases," said Fisher. "In the first half of 2014, marketers have the opportunity to turn first-time mobile purchasers into repeat mobile purchasers by considering the impact that mobile devices have on every interaction with the customer."

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