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How smartphones are changing the way we shop

by Ryan Garner , 02.05.2012

By Ryan Garner (GfK) and Alex Kozlof (IAB UK)

The irrepressible tide of smart, connected, mobile devices is changing the way we shop at every stage of the purchase process. This poses new opportunities and challenges for product marketers and retailers in both the online and offline world.

The ‘always on’ nature of smartphones - not just in your pocket but also connected to the internet - makes them the perfect companion for shoppers throughout the entire purchase journey, both online and offline. Recent research by the IAB and GfK shows that while PCs (laptops and/or desktop computers) are still the most used devices throughout the online purchase process, smartphones are an increasingly important complement to existing methods of shopping. The number of shoppers using smartphones will inevitably increase, but this usage will in many cases be in conjunction with the PC or an aid to the consumer while in store. Indeed, the research showed that the most common behaviour was for the smartphone and PC to be used together in the purchase process rather than independently.

Shopping in a multi-screen world

The smartphone and PC offer consumers very different but complementary benefits. With its larger screen, the PC is better suited to high value, high consideration research and purchase activity. In comparison, the smartphone is perfect for looking up information quickly and while on the move. A great example of this is when consumers are watching TV. 44% of respondents in this study stated that they reach for their mobile when wanting to follow up a TV advert. In most cases they are often looking for more price and product information to supplement what they have just been told by the TV advert.

The introduction of the smartphone in the purchase process means that from trigger through to transaction, the journey becomes more complicated for product marketers and retailers. When considering all the channels, devices, and information sources the variety of routes through the purchase journey seem infinite. Take, for example, a young gaming enthusiast who sees an advert for a new game on his XBOX. He discusses what he has seen with his friends and decides to purchase the game, using his smartphone to make the transaction through an online retailer.

The most striking thing about this particular purchase journey is that from trigger (seeing the advert on the XBOX) through to purchasing the game, there was not a physical retail store or a PC involved. From a retail perspective, Amazon won this sale through combining an easy-to-use optimised interface for smartphones, convenient payment options (one click) and pre-order promotions.

Smartphone: the perfect in-store shopping companion

Today’s shoppers hit the high streets armed with a wealth of knowledge in their pockets. The research shows that 38% of respondents use their smartphone in store and of this group, 55% conduct an internet search about products or services. Faster networks, more tactile screens and localised information will only accelerate this trend in the future. In addition to internet search, location-based services and price comparison apps will provide consumers with almost complete price transparency while shopping. In terms of service provision we’re not quite there yet, however nearly half (49%) of those who used their phone in store did so to conduct price comparisons with other retailers.

The use of smartphones in the purchase process is a very present reality which is affecting all brands and retailers to a greater or lesser degree, and clearly demonstrates the importance of a cross-device digital and retail marketing strategy. The more connected devices consumers own, the more their behaviours change and the increasingly complex their purchasing habits become. In particular, the way consumers are turning to their mobile phone in store should be a strong call to action for retailers to get prepared to this growing trend.

For more information about the IAB’s Mobile Online Journey Observation (MOJO) study please visit their website [http://www.iabuk.net/research/library/mobile-and-online-journey-observation-mojo]