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Growing Role of Mobile Technology in Shopping

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This article explores the in-store technology use and smartphone activities of global shoppers, drawing on results from the Out and About survey of 6,200 consumers in 15 markets worldwide.

Changing landscape of in-store technology use

Mobile technology is playing an increasingly important role as shoppers turn to their smartphones in stores to read reviews, compare prices, and check product availability. Consumers no
longer need to rely on in-store salespeople or advertisements as their only sources of information. Indeed, even loyal in-store shoppers, who would never consider ordering a product online, sometimes look to the internet for more information before making a purchase in store. Ever-growing rates of internet access and smartphone ownership across the globe indicate that this increased use of technology in stores will remain a significant shopping trend. This article explores specific shopping-related technology activities growing in popularity among global consumers, focusing on implications for traditional brick and mortar stores as they adapt to these new shopping behaviours.

Shoppers engaged in technology, even in physical stores

Website checking more common than store-based activities among global respondents

As internet access and smartphone ownership rise, shoppers are becoming increasingly accustomed to deferring to technology, rather than a person, to answer their questions. Already consumers are more likely to turn to their smartphone to check a website for product information than they are to ask an in-store salesperson; over one-third often or almost always look to websites to get information, check inventory, or compare prices when shopping in stores. Although some traditional brick and mortar stores have begun offering their own technology,
often in the form of in-store kiosks, these have yet to gain widespread popularity among shoppers; both websites and salespeople remain much more common sources of information.

Frequent In-store Activities

Frequent In-store Activities

Euromonitor International Consumer Survey – Out and About 2012

Showing percent of respondents who do in-store activity “often” or “(almost) always”

Are websites replacing salespeople?

Although checking a website on a smartphone for product information in stores is now more common than asking a salesperson, human interaction while shopping has not yet been universally replaced by technology. Indeed, in emerging markets such as Brazil, India, and Colombia, shoppers still turn to salespeople more frequently than websites. However, in other regions, particularly developed countries where shoppers are less likely to seek product details from any source, websites are quickly overtaking in-store salespeople in popularity. This is especially the case in the UK and Japan, where respondents are approximately three times more likely to frequently visit a website on their smartphone for shopping information than
they are to speak with an in-store salesperson. Similarly, Chinese respondents, among the most tech-savvy, are much more likely to visit a website than they are to refer to a salesperson.

In-store Reliance on Websites vs. Salespeople

In-store Reliance on Websites vs. Salespeople

Euromonitor International Consumer Survey – Out and About 2012

Showing percent of respondents who do in-store activity “often” or “(almost) always”

Use of QR codes is limited, even among tech-savvy shoppers in emerging markets

One of the latest technologies to branch into the shopping space is the use of QR codes: labels on products, or even in-store advertisements, which can be scanned using a smartphone,
bringing up detailed brand and product information. While other mobile technology, particularly checking a website on a smartphone or, to a limited extent, referring to an app, is growing in popularity, use of QR codes while shopping is still relatively uncommon. Over 40% of respondents in developed countries have never scanned a QR code for product information. Even in China, where respondents often use technology to augment their shopping experience, only one-fifth frequently scan QR codes in stores.

Scanning QR Codes in Stores

Scanning QR Codes in Stores

Euromonitor International Consumer Survey – Out and About 2012

Showing percent of respondents who check mobile apps in stores with the indicated frequency.

Relying on shopping-related mobile technology beyond stores

Checking product prices and reading reviews while out and about

Beyond store-specific mobile activities, many consumers turn to their smartphones for other shopping-related information, whether they are in stores or simply out of the house. The most
common of these activities is checking product prices; one-quarter of respondents use their smartphone to get price information on potential purchases. Mobile price-checking is especially common in India, China, and the US where over one-third of respondents do so.

Less common on smartphones, although still important to many consumers, are the product and service reviews of other shoppers; less than one-fifth of respondents read or write reviews on their smartphones while out and about. However, these reviews influence purchase decisions for over half of respondents, indicating that they may be more commonly read while at home rather than while on the go. The ability to read the reviews of other consumers on a smartphone is a particularly powerful tool for shoppers, and one that will likely grow in popularity as peer opinions become more important in the purchase decision-making process.

Frequent Shopping-related Mobile Phone Activities

Frequent Shopping-related Mobile Phone Activities

Euromonitor International Consumer Survey – Out and About 2012

Showing percent of respondents who do the indicated mobile phone activities while away from home.

Outlook and business implications

Expectation of instantaneous, and complete, information

The wealth of product information and reviews available online has led to a shift in shopper expectations, both when they are in stores and at home. Instead of relying solely on salespeople, advertisements, or listed product details, many shoppers now look to independent expert and consumer reviews. Price comparisons between both physical and online stores can be done in seconds, instantly giving discerning shoppers the ability to find the best deal available. As mobile internet access spreads, consumers are becoming more accustomed to accessing product
information, reviews, and price comparisons from their smartphone while shopping and less likely to rely on in-store displays or salespeople.

Staying ahead of the tech-savvy shopper

The use of technology in stores will undoubtedly become more common, whether or not retailers themselves embrace the trend. To continue appealing to tech-savvy shoppers, physical
stores should focus on improving their own technology, as well as the overall shopper experience. The current prevalence of in-store kiosks may not be enough for shoppers who are accustomed to having a mobile device at their fingertips. To go beyond offering stationary product information, some retailers now hand out Apple iPads to shoppers when they enter the store, often with pre-determined apps and websites open for ease (and control) of information access.

Apple itself has truly embraced mobile technology in its physical stores and strives to deliver a seamless shopping experience, whether customers are interacting with the retailer through salespeople, a mobile app, or online. Not only are employees able to assist customers with transactions on store iPads, shoppers can request in-store assistance via the Apple Store app on their own smartphone. While other physical stores may not aspire to this level of technology integration, all can benefit from incorporating new technology-based shopping methods with
their traditional in-person service.

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