Beyond 'Showrooming': In-Store Mobile Users Want Information, Experiences, A Buddy

The oft-cited and much-dreaded sport of comparison shopping in-store via smartphone (a.k.a. ‘showrooming’) is only one of many mobile activities consumers perform on their devices in Aisle 3 and it is likely overrated, says a new study from Vibes. In fact, hyper-focusing on this one feared aspect of the mobile shopping experience can distract marketers from all of the ways they can engage the connected floorwalker. “Our research shows that the majority of in-store activities -- scanning QR codes, looking up product reviews and using a retailer’s app -- are all about building confidence in a shopper's purchase decision,” says Jack Philbin, CEO and co-founder, Vibes.

As we move into the holiday season,and marketers put their hair on fire over how much smartphones are hijacking their retail business, it is best to reiterate some research that Vibes conducted and we discussed first months ago. Showrooming is overrated. In most cases, mobile shoppers are using their phones to get validation of their purchase decision, not a deal that saves them just a few bucks but makes them wait days for delivery.

To be sure, comparison shopping is not dead, with 54% of the 1,000 mobile shoppers surveyed saying they have done so with their devices in-store. But almost as many (51%) also say they have looked up product reviews. In other words, retailers have an important opportunity to capture these information-hungry shoppers with their own branded content. About a third (33%) of in-store mobile users have gone to that store’s mobile site, for instance, for more information. And 28% have actually used that retailer’s app in the same store. Vibes defines the “connected shopper” as a mobile-using consumer who has performed one or more of the major in-store activities.

While younger demos may be especially dependent on mobile phones in-store, the overall profile of the m-shopper is older and more male than one might expect. More than half (54%) are male and a third are over age 45. In fact, mobile shopping is miles beyond the early-adopter stage, with 32% less than $50,000, 39% in the $50,000 to $100,000 bracket, and 29% above $100,000.

While the connected consumer is not necessarily looking to be kidnapped by a rival with a lower price, these are among the savviest consumers around, the survey finds. For instance, 76% of them say they use coupons while shopping at least half of the time. Deals matter to them, but herein lies another great opportunity to capture the mobile-ready users since more than half of them have used a mobile coupon. And those who already use mobile phones as a shopping tool are that much more likely to use the phone as a buy button as well, with 54% of this group saying they have already made a purchase via their device, usually with an average value of $20 to $49.

Among these connected shoppers, the most common in-store mobile activities included:

54% Compared on a competitor’s site

51% Looked up a product review

45% Scanned a QR or barcode for product information

33% Researched a product on the store’s site

28% Used a company’s app in the store

19% Checked in with location-based services

18% Purchased a product from the store’s Web site

17% Sent a text message for more information

15% Purchased a product from a competitor

14% Sent a text message to subscribe to a list

Among the connected shoppers who scanned or texted for more product information in-store, 47% said it simply made them feel better about their purchase.” Only 11% were actually dissuaded from making the purchase.

For retailers this holiday, the challenge and opportunity is to capture this mobile impulse in-store and to super-serve that consumer looking for validation. If there is one thing we know about Americans, it is that buying stuff is their default mode, and it doesn’t take much of a push. Like the friend you bring shopping who whispers in your ear “you deserve it, go ahead,” the mobile device is becoming that kind of reliable companion in the consumption process. It is both empowering and encouraging.

I am starting to see glimpses of in-store experiences that buddy up to me as a shopper and seem to understand the process. I like that Best Buy's QR codes all bring me to the product pages, regardless of the scanner I use. I don't need to invoke the Best Buy app itself to see the device in hand as an extension of the retailer. The fact that the Apple Store app knows when I am in an Apple Store and can now geo-fence gift cards ensures I will use that app. Last year retailers seemed to be playing defense against aisle interlopers like Amazon and eBay. Now we are starting to see some creativity take hold and a greater emphasis on developing positive shopping experiences that synchronize with the in-store process.

What do I want for Christmas?

Apps that change their state when I walk in the retailer door and that are geo-fenced to open automatically in-store.

Mobile apps and sites that are in synch with the desktop retail sites so I can push product information back and forth across platforms.  

Easier sharing tools for sending a gift idea or consulting with friends and family via the channels (especially SMS/MMS) that we already use to communicate.

Product Watchlists/wishlists that activate when I walk in the door.

Special deals and flash sales/coupons that reward the level of brand loyalty that comes with downloading a retailer app.

Registering for alerts when a high-demand item is back in stock at my local store.

Giving the salesperson the flexibility to respond to a price-match request with a range of other value adds. I want to hear more of “I am sorry we can’t match that price exactly, but what I can do for you is… .”

And Wifi. No kidding. I trust this is the last year I have to ask for this, since I started complaining about it several years ago in these pages. If you have a retail app and don’t have a robust in-store Wifi infrastructure for consumers, then you don’t really have a mobile strategy. Speed sells. Video sells. All of that requires battle-grade connections in-store. Otherwise, you just ruined the mobile experience before it had a chance to start and you lost me at Aisle 3.

3 comments about "Beyond 'Showrooming': In-Store Mobile Users Want Information, Experiences, A Buddy".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 14, 2012 at 6:41 a.m.

    The survey doesn't seem representative of typical shoppers. The most common in-store mobile-based activities that I see are phoning/texting a family member to check what to buy and checking a shopping list on their phone - neither of which are mentioned. On the other hand, I can't remember seeing any of the grocery shoppers in Tesco stop to check competitor sites or look up reviews.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, November 14, 2012 at 7:18 a.m.

    Pete, thanks for reminding us, and you are absolutely right. Person-to-person calling from the aisles (especially in grocery stores) is a primary in-store use that a survey like this doesn't and should cover. I think it underscores one of my points, that ultimately the data channel should try to emulate the human channel is enhancing the retail experience - by becoming a shopping buddy.

  3. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, November 19, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

    Do you really want a "walmart" app running in the background so that when you happen to walk into a store the geofence fires up this weeks special.

    As Eddie murphy would say in Coming To America "clap clap WIPERS!!"

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