Growing Role of Mobile Technology in Shopping

April 16th, 2013
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Growing-Role-of-Mobile-Technology-in-ShoppingThis 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.

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.

engaged in technology, even in physical stores

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.

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.

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

product prices and reading reviews while out and about

Beyond store-specific mobile
activities, many consumers turn to their smartphones for other shopping-related
, 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.

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

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.

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

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.

Have a question or a thought to add? Leave us a comment below.
  • Gemma Giri

    Truly said. Now people are intensely involved in technologies, gadgets and interested to get updated. For all this they used to visit sores physically and over the web as well.