Mobile Shopping Is Not Mobile Buying, And It Is Not Just About Being In-Store

We seem to be under a mountain of research in the last week around mobile commerce. The stats on how much and how often people have been using their phones as part of the product purchase cycle risk seeming tedious in their univocal refrain -- mobile is a big frickin' retail deal now.

At Monday’s OMMA Mobile event in New York Mediapost’s own head of the Center for Media Research and author of the recent The Third Screen, Chuck Martin moderated a panel specifically on what marketers learned about mobile at retail from the last holiday season and how they plan to implement new and different approaches this coming holiday.

And so it is a good time to reflect a bit on holiday 2011 and how consumers said they were using their devices in and around the shopping experience. Once we get beyond gasping at the high penetration rates of m-shopping, we need to begin going deeper to understand specific habits, contexts and demographic breakdowns.

JWT conducted a survey of 465 people who did engage in mobile shopping activity last holiday and found that people are generally hovering well above the mobile purchase piece. The majority of mobile shoppers (55%) were looking for price information on their bell phones or tablets regardless of the location of the lookup. But interestingly, 44% were consulting directly a family member or friend. That to me is an interesting intersection of the data and conversational functionality of this device.

For all that mobile has evolved as a Web extension -- that task-driven, information-dense platform -- it still vies with the phone’s traditional one-to-one roots. Also high on the list of shopping tasks was getting more information about a product (46%), sharing information with others. Making a purchase, while more substantial a share than one might suspect at 38%, was still well down the list of uses.

Slicing the data by gender, men were more likely to look for more product information and to make purchases than women. In fact, men along with younger users are embracing the device as a platform for making purchases at a significantly higher rate. JWT found that while 56% of women said they had made at least one purchase via their phone during the holiday season, 81% of men had. Surely there is more to this than comfort with technology, and the traditional (perhaps stereotypical) male aversion to the live shopping experience has something to do with this.

The much-discussed scenario of consumers using their phones to buy products from other retailers while they are in a rival’s store may be only marginally true. This study finds that only 25% of people making their mobile purchase were doing so in a store that sold the item, and 23% were doing so at a store that didn’t sell the item. Most mobile purchasing is happing in one’s own home (49%) or at the home of a friend or family member (40%), or at work (38%).

The interesting point here is that the mobile purchase -- whether by phone or tablet -- is being made largely where other larger PC screens are available. For many mobile purchasers, the device is becoming a preferred mode of access. Either because these m-shoppers are gravitating toward the better retailers, or mobile shopping improved that much last year, 69% of the mobile shoppers rated the experience as excellent or very good. Still, interestingly, women still need more convincing than men -- only 61% were pleased with the experience versus 74% of men.

While shoppers cited convenience and ease as key motivations for engaging mobile over other platforms for shopping, the purchase piece remains a choke point. Users still find navigation a frequent issue, and the security concern is still there. For many mobile shoppers the device is preferred for browsing and information look-ups, while many of them still end up going to the PC or the store to make the purchase itself.   

As JWT points out in its study, a number of important implications emerge. Retailers need to start accommodating multiple audiences, and be aware of differences in male and female mobile shopping patterns. Not to overstress stereotypes, but men skew more toward information retrieval while women may want to see more effort put into perfecting the virtual shopping experience itself a better look and feel.

The interface remains a challenge. My own feeling is that as in so many other things, mobile platforms force digital media and marketers to do what they only promised to do on the Web. From a consumer perspective, poor ad targeting online, multitasking, clutter and the relative absence of real personalization still compromise the desktop experience. Then, of course, there is simply the perennially uncomfortable upright, at-the-desk and lean-in posture that has been to me the least user-friendly way to consume media we have yet invented.

One of the reasons I think we are seeing such a tectonic shift to device usage is pent-up demand. I think the dirty little secret of the desktop Web is that it never was very enjoyable for most of us. This is content that has been begging to break free for years. One of the unkept promises of the Web that becomes critical now is personalization. Just open up your Amazon app on tablet or handset and compare it to almost any other mobile retail experience. I mean, really. There are at least five things on the first page I have to resist buying because the brilliant bastards know me so well.    

Foremost, m-shopping -- just like mobile media consumption and game playing -- is occurring at least as much in the home as it is in that overused “on the go” scenario. I suspect as time goes on, we may be less inclined to think of what we now call mobile as “mobile.” Mobility will be only one possible characteristic and mode for our “personal screen.”  Its principal quality is not that it is “out and about,” but that it is mine.

When media and marketers really get that on these devices, we will be evolving well beyond mass media -- and even beyond merely the interactive but niche media of the Web -- and then we begin to seriously explore what this “next screen” is going to be.  

1 comment about "Mobile Shopping Is Not Mobile Buying, And It Is Not Just About Being In-Store ".
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  1. alan beesley from 3zaps, May 15, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.

    Steve hits the nail on the head. Retail is about customer delight. Making me feel like I'm the only one that matters is the key. Understand me better and deliver me what I'm looking for. My time is precious and my mobile screen is small. Don't slow me down with Apps or clutter me up with irrelevant ads. Let me scan it, browse it, buy it!

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