LONDON: Mobile commerce is increasing in popularity across Europe's biggest markets, a new study has revealed.

Figures from comScore, the research firm, showed 13.5m people in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK accessed online retail sites like Amazon via mobile devices during the three months ending in May 2011.

This total equated to just 5.8% of all mobile subscribers, but had increased by 37% over the last 12 months.

Growth rates peaked at 118% in the UK, compared with more modest expansions of 45% in Germany and 24% in France.

Italy and Spain, however, both witnessed year on year declines of 5% on this metric, comScore's analysis stated.

When only looking at the smartphone audience, the regional total grew by 80%, suggesting gadgets like Apple's iPhone and alternatives powered by Google Android are exerting a meaningful impact on shopper habits.

Once again, the pace of expansion peaked in the UK, on 163%, also hitting 106% in Germany and 80% for France.

Similarly, Spain and Italy recorded the lowest improvements, of 22% and 8% respectively.

Across all devices, logging on to internet retail platforms remains a minority pastime, securing a 9.2% penetration in the UK, but trending downwards to a low of 3.4% in France and Spain.

"Over the past year, online retailers enjoyed strong growth in visitation from mobile devices in Europe, largely driven by the acceleration in smartphone ownership," Jeremy Copp, comScore's Europe vice president for mobile, said.

"While mobile access offers retailers incremental occasions to engage with customers, it also provides customers the ability to easily compare prices at competing retailers while inside a particular retailer's store.

"Retailers must get a firm handle on mobile shopping behavior if they are to effectively navigate this changing environment."

Elsewhere, the study reported that 6.3% of mobile users currently access auction properties such as eBay throughout the five markets monitored, ahead of mainstream retail sites.

The first of these channels saw a 36% uptick in usage across the entire sample, standing 76% for consumers possessing advanced devices like the iPhone.

Shopping guides are also utilised by 5.1% of the panel, with growth of 31% overall, and 74% for smartphone subscribers.

At present, internet browsers remain the leading source of mobile commerce activity, with a penetration of 7.2% for online retail, 6.6% for auction sites and 6.2% regarding shopping guides.

By contrast, apps posted 5.6% for auction platforms, 4.4% for mainstream retail properties, and 2.5% for guides.

The sole exception of applications out-performing browsers was for auction sites in the UK, on 11.6%, versus the 10% held by browsers.

"With mobile browsers still driving mobile retail activity in Europe, retailers hoping to capitalise on this trend should first look to develop a mobile-optimized website if they haven't already," said Copp.

"Apps, which often provide a more powerful and intuitive interface than browsers, will become increasingly important - especially as consumers begin to transact over their phones with greater regularity."

Overall, 31.6% of mobile subscribers accessed the mobile web during the assessment period, while 31.3% used apps, and 20.7% logged on to social networks of blogs in this way.

It was estimated that smartphone penetration had reached 36% in the countries analysed, topping 40% in the UK and Spain.

Data sourced from comScore; additional content by Warc staff