NEW YORK - If the beginning of the holiday season is any indication, it could be a merry mobile Christmas for shoppers.
For the first time, there's expected to be more people visiting retailers' websites through their smartphones than on desktop computers or tablets during the first weekend of the holiday shopping season that begins on Thanksgiving Day.
Mobile traffic during the five-day start to what is typically the busiest shopping period of the year is expected to reach 56.9 percent of total traffic, up from 48.5 percent last year, according to IBM Watson.
And even though everyone who "window shops" on their phones isn't going to buy, mobile sales are jumping too. Mobile sales are expected to account for 36.1 percent of online sales, up from 27 percent last year, according to IBM Watson Trend.
The bumps in traffic and sales come as retailers try to make the mobile shopping experience easier by improving their mobile apps and adding coupons and other deals. Shoppers also have gotten more comfortable browsing retailers' websites as smartphone screen sizes have gotten bigger, making it easier for them to see photos of the items they want to buy. Digital wallets and apps that let shoppers store payment information are helping too.
"It's very convenient," said Seth Reineke, 25, an insurance worker from Iowa City, Iowa, who plans to peruse Amazon's weekend deals from his phone. "It allows me to keep track of time-sensitive sales without being tied to a computer or having to leave a holiday event or get-together."
Overall spending this season is expected to be somewhat muted. The National Retail Federation, a trade group for store owners, expects industrywide sales to be up 3.7 percent in November and December, less than the 4.1 percent of last year's holiday season.
But online spending figures are stronger. Forrester predicts online sales will rise 11 percent to $95 billion. And mobile sales are becoming a bigger piece of that pie. Forrester expects them to account for 35 percent of e-commerce this year and 49 percent in five years. That compares to 29 percent in 2014.