Consumers are heading online to do their shopping more and more and this has been shown in all the surveys and sales reports that are released by retailers and research firms alike. There is no argument being made for e-commerce to outright replace traditional in-store shopping, however, the future is clearly looking like one where shoppers do a large portion of their shopping online and this may be seen in some sectors or product categories over others.

An additional layer on the e-commerce trends though is the rise of m-commerce, e-commerce that is done on mobile devices. Smartphones are being used for everything from our communication needs, web searching, and picture taking, to music and with increasing frequency, our online shopping. Following the trends in the usage of both smartphones and tablets coupled with online shopping behavior, these two intersect making for a mobile-driven web shopping future. Always looking forward into this experience, research firm have released interesting statistics that shed light on what we can expect in the m-commerce world.

Alternative Payments Making a Difference
First, Forrester shares the results of their recent forecast of alternative payments in online shopping where they reported that payments other than debit or credit (e.g., PayPal, Google Checkout) account for 20% of all e-commerce transactions at present, and predict that number will rise to 23% by 2016. Alternative payments will represent $110 billion in e-commerce four years from now whereas today they account for $64 billion. These alternative methods, of which Paypal is the most popular at the present moment, may very well be the catalyst, specifically PayPal Mobile Express Checkout, that pushes mobile shopping over the edge to full take off.

The issue is that conversion rates are lower for shopping via mobile devices, as outlined in a recent Internet Retailer piece, but with the convenience that comes with such features like the Paypal Mobile Express Checkout that removes the process of form-filling, conversion rates are boosted. Analysts predict that much of online shopping will be done on mobile devices ten years from now and it appears features like this may allow m-commerce to turn the corner.

Mobile Sites and Apps
When SEO agencies, e-commerce consultants, and internet marketing agencies look to assist retailers with their online goals, one of the first things they do is to encourage mobile sites and apps because of the functionality they bring to the customers. Looking at both the US and French markets, there are notable figures that offer insight. In research from CCM Benchmark, a French tech company, almost half (45%) of the French travel companies and retailers included have a mobile site or app compared to 22% having the same during the first quarter of 2011.

CCM also offers that in both the US and French e-commerce markets, retailers who are beginning to branch into the sector are first looking to mobile-optimized sites rather than the apps. The sites can be easier and less expensive to develop than the apps and they also can run on all types of devices, something that a single app cannot do given the different operating systems (Apple’s and Google’s being the most popular).

Businesses need to understand the implications of m-commerce and make the appropriate decisions for their business given the nature of their products and customers. Regardless of these characteristics, however, businesses must embrace both online shopping and its trend towards mobile.

When it comes to social media and SEO, I’ve discussed two major players so far: Twitter and the up-and-coming Pinterest. Here is yet one more: Foursquare. This is primarily a mobile app for smartphones, but it can be so much more for businesses that know how to utilize it for promotional and marketing activity. Foursquare trades on the currency of fun, but the app and social media tool can produce tangibly profitable results if businesses use it in just the right way.

In fact, this blog post was inspired by a recent article by Mashable on a promotional collaboration between Foursquare and the popular Viacom cable channel VH1, which was one of the earliest brands to join the Foursquare community. The two have released a “Save the Music” Badge that users who follow VH1 can earn if they check into any music venue in the country. For the first 35,000 users who unlock the badge, $1 will be donated to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which provides money to schools to revitalize their music education programs.

From this particular venture, VH1 is clearly not making money; but, it is generating a large amount of user participation, and garnering loads of attention from both people who use Foursquare and those who don’t. This attention will help build strongly upon a positive brand presence for VH1 in the social media sphere, and will prove beneficial to promotions it may run in the future that will bring in money.

It is in fact the opportunity to hold special sales and promotions on Foursquare that makes the mobile app so valuable to all businesses. The Foursquare audience is largely young, fun-loving, and – most importantly – eager to spend, especially when they are presented something in an appealing way, which happens easily through Foursquare. Businesses that are quick to realize this can successfully set up the right social media marketing campaigns to engage these users – and bring them into their stores, restaurants, and other venues.

To best illustrate this, I can only make use of some local examples. When I check into the Cherry Hill Mall’s Macy’s on Foursquare, I often receive a discount of 20% on any purchase. When I check into a nearby Raymour & Flanigan Furniture store on Foursquare, I can get a 10% discount on my entire purchase of non-sale items. Several restaurants in Philadelphia offer the ability to take $5 off an order of $5 or more if you check into them via Foursquare. Speaking of restaurants, checking into the Chili’s Grill & Bar located close to the Webimax offices rewards Foursquare users with a free order of chips and salsa.

Such tantalizing discounts and promotions have proven incredibly useful in getting people to engage with – and spend time and money at – many businesses. If you are running a business and are looking for that extra edge, it may be worth your time to consider how Foursquare can help enhance your SEO marketing and promotion strategy.