Among all of the behaviors the contemporary marketer must track, cross-screen shopping is one of the fastest moving targets. As I have said to the point of tedium, device activity is a series of concurrently evolving elements that are different now than they were just a year ago. We not only have ever-higher penetration of different-sized screens, but as a result we have both users and retailers shifting their own use of these devices as technologies and habits change. Any numbers we trade are not only highly variable according to source, but they are at best a snapshot of a changing situation.
And they are deeply dependent upon category. That is one of the biggest takeaways I got from Bill Romania of GfK at last week’s Mobile Insider Summit. Romania was giving us a slice of the most recent survey his company did of shoppers worldwide to understand how they are moving across channels to consider and make purchases. But the range of so-called “omnichannel” (we may dub that the official word of the Summit) behaviors is considerable once you slice the data into product categories. In the U.S., for instance only 14% of cleaning supply purchasers are making decisions outside of the store experience, which is to be expected. But I was surprised to see a category like Beauty and Personal products also fairly low on the omnichannel scale (31%), considering the amount of branded digital content and advertising thrown at that category.
But don’t expect the omnichannel urge to remain static. For instance, in Asia-Pacific countries, the share of consumers shopping both online and in-store for food and beverages is huge: 51% in Korea and 46% in China. The suggestion is that there is upside potential in just about every category. Romania showed scenarios where in China people are using their mobile devices to secure beverage purchases off outdoor signage, and even trial programs in the U.S. of Peapod and Giant letting people make home delivery orders off delivery trucks using bar-code scanning.
Speaking of bar-code scanning, the amount of in-store smartphone activity remains contested. For all of the stats suggesting showrooming activity using personal devices, there is that nagging experiential issue: We don’t actually see as much of it going on when we're in brick-an- mortar outlets. GfK’s survey of U.S. shoppers shows a very diverse use of devices in and around the physical retail experience, with 37% of consumers saying they had seen a product in store and then purchased it on their phone elsewhere, up from only 22% last year. This is the retail nightmare scenario, or what we might call getting “Amazon-ed.” But it is not the only scenario. At the same time, 31% of respondents said they were seeing a product in a retail store and then later buying that product from the retail brand’s online presence.
As Romania relayed at the summit, the only real way to understand this complex web of user shopping behaviors is to be able to move away from simple user surveys and actually track people in
the wild and tie that data back to online and device activity. He revealed that some of the same cell tower geolocation data now provided to government agencies by the carriers will be made available
to marketers via a third party.
This de-identified data set will give a much more nuanced picture of how people shop. It will also allow for an opt-in panel of participants whose online behaviors can be linked to offline activity. These patterns then could be extrapolated to the larger population for a clearer understanding of cross-screen activities leading to purchases.
This kind of highly detailed geolocation data will allow for a new range of products that can help retailers see how online activity is converting to retail traffic. But it might also help retailers better understand how people are moving within a shopping area, the actual sources of foot traffic, and the clusters of retailers consumers visit.
That this will be dynamic data is all the more important, because if recent history is any guide, omnichannel behaviors will be different a year from now.