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The Truth is Out There—Shoppers Armed with Smartphones Are Here to Stay

2013 September 19

The Google Shopper Marketing Council has been making the rounds with some new research about how consumers are using mobile devices to shop. There are a number of interesting statistics in the findings, along with several ideas for dealing with the change in shopper behavior. Woman researching with mobile device in grocery store

For me, the most interesting part was not new at all. I showed the stats to some retail folks I know; a couple of operators, and a couple of marketers. The response was unanimous: “I don’t know if I believe that.”

I’m not sure where this perspective comes from. Mobile has changed our lives in innumerable ways—some good, some bad. Walk through an airport or doctor’s office, or any place people are waiting, and all you see are heads bent over lighted screens. Texting and driving has become alarmingly common, to the point that even the wireless providers are working together on campaigns to stop the practice.

How anyone can dismiss the overwhelming evidence that people are using their phones to shop is beyond me. I’m not sure if it’s denial, lack of tangible evidence (“I’ve never seen anyone do that.”) or just an inability to grasp the massive change that has taken place.

Here are a few examples of the results from the study:

  • 79 percent of smartphone owners are “smartphone shoppers”
  • 84 percent use their phone to shop while in the store (this jumps to 89 percent for food shoppers)
  • On average, shoppers spend 15 minutes using their phones to shop while in the store
  • 82 percent use a search engine, as opposed to a website or mobile app, to find info
  • Mobile shoppers buy more than those who don’t use mobile

Looking at some of these statistics, I understand the difficulty in accepting the facts as they are presented. What about showrooming? I thought that was hurting sales? How are mobile shoppers buying more? And 89 percent of food shoppers are spending an average of 15 minutes using their phone in my store? I’m not seeing that.

Here is the thing to keep in mind: your experience is likely to vary. These are averages derived from lots of inputs. But whether the right number is 89 percent or 69 percent or 99 percent, it’s still the majority. Pretending that it isn’t so would be a massive error.

One other thing of note is that the study doesn’t define demographics. This isn’t just the Millennial generation; mobile use spans the spectrum, and savvy users are as likely to be grandmothers as they are new moms.

Rather than try to disprove, or argue, or ignore the statistics, it’s time to look at how your mobile strategy stacks up. It’s not about an app, or, please, QR codes. It’s about understanding how and why your shoppers are using mobile, and how you can use that knowledge to differentiate and influence behavior in your store.

Mobile is here, and here to stay. I am hopeful that we will be able to reduce or eliminate mobile use while driving, but everywhere else it’s only going to grow. It’s time to accept that fact, and start adapting.


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One Response leave one →
  1. September 24, 2013

    Absolutely agree on all counts!
    Mobile is changing the way we live, study, eat, shop, dress and pretty much every aspect of how we conduct ourselves on a daily.

    Our app Swym – Shopping With Your Mobile – hopes to improve the shopping experience of consumers by organizing their promotional emails and reminding the user of expiring deals and offers. It should make a small but visible difference in how folks shop, we hope. :)

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