If you’re a retailer or an agency serving retailers, mobile is arguably now your most critical channel. Yet, despite the mounting evidence of consumer reliance on mobile devices in shopping, a majority of retailers still have “experimental” or very tepid mobile strategies.
Considerable research has already established that smartphone owners use their devices heavily during offline shopping and “pre-shopping” activities. Now, Google is out with new sponsored research that reinforces the message and adds a few new insights. The study’s insights come through both surveys and observation.
The research primarily focuses on a sub-category of smartphone users it calls “smartphone shoppers,” which represent 79 percent of the total smartphone population. These are people who use their devices as “shopping assistants” at least monthly if not weekly or more frequently.
Google found that these “smartphone shoppers” rely heavily on their devices to conduct research and obtain product and store-related information. However, this is true across the board, not just in “high consideration” categories (e.g., appliances). They also use them for “pre-shopping” activities such as finding store hours and location information, promotions and product inventory.
The top in-store smartphone activities are the following:
- Price comparisons
- Finding offers and promotions
- Finding locations of other stores
- Finding hours
One of the perhaps counter-intuitive findings of the study — based on the notion that smartphone shoppers are just doing aggressive price comparisons — is that heavier smartphone shoppers buy more, with higher average basket sizes.
Another very interesting, but not surprising, finding is that “one in three” smartphone shoppers will turn to their devices for information in stores rather than asking employees. This makes sense for many reasons; among them: store employees may be unavailable or poorly trained or informed.
The research also discovered that smartphone shoppers prefer mobile sites to apps by almost two to one. This flies in the face of all the data that show roughly 80 percent of mobile time spent on mobile devices is with apps. However, Google also reports (in a somewhat self-serving way) that search is heavily used by in-store smartphone shoppers. Indeed, Google says it’s the most-used information-finding tool.
Below is the list of top sources used by in-store smartphone shoppers:
- Search — 82 percent
- Store websites — 62 percent
- Brand websites — 50 percent
- Store apps — 21 percent
- Deal sites — 20 percent
Mobile websites are more “accessible” to in-store shoppers. If users don’t already have a retailer app installed on their phones it’s unlikely they’re going to install one on the spot (without some incentive). And, search is arguably the fastest way to get product or store information when users don’t have a known alternative resource.
There are other, category-specific findings available in the main report (.pdf).
The “gestalt” of the study is that smartphones are heavily relied upon by consumers in shopping, both in-stores and during pre-shopping research. And there are a wide range of implications for retailers about how to use mobile that go well beyond advertising. For example, retailers can and must envision their sites and apps being used by shoppers in stores and treat them like a sales and customer service aid, not just an e-commerce tool. In fact e-commerce is a low, secondary-use case here.
The consumer story to date around in-store mobile usage has mostly been about Amazon, “showrooming” and price matching. But it’s a great deal more complex and nuanced, as this report starts to suggest.
It’s imperative that retailers of all types and categories now (right now) address not only the threat but also the opportunity of in-store smartphone usage.