Understanding and embracing this new retail behaviour can open up new opportunities for brands to connect with customers in key consideration moments

With the increase of digital, social and mobile channels, consumers are using a very multi-channel approach to learning about, engaging with, and purchasing products and services.

Smartphones are transforming the retail experience

Now that consumers have product details, price comparisons and reviews available instantly at their fingertips, they’re complimenting what they see on store shelves with what they can find on the web.

This behaviour isn’t just limited to high consideration purchases like appliances and electronics. According to a new study from the Google Shopper Council in the U.S., 84% of mobile shoppers use their phones to assist them in their shopping while in physical stores.

Below are key takeouts from the research:

  • 80% of smartphone shoppers use mobile in-store to help with shopping.
  • Mobile search is the starting point. Instead of going directly to a site or app, 82% of shoppers use search engines for browsing product information while in-store.
  • The retail landscape is evolving for all industries. Mobile use in stores is not category specific: with every industry looked at, including household items, apparel, health & beauty and pet care, more than 70% of smartphone shoppers use their phones in store to help with shopping. In fact, nearly two-thirds of baby product shoppers compare prices in-store.
  • Shoppers who use mobile more, spend more in-store. Frequent mobile shoppers spend 25% more in-store than people who only occasionally use a mobile phone to help with shopping.
  • Self-help” is becoming the new norm as one in three shoppers use their smartphones to find information instead of asking store employees.

So what are shoppers using their smartphones for in stores? The research showed that phones were primarily used for:

  • Price comparison (53%)
  • Finding offers and promotions (39%)
  • Finding locations of other stores (36%)
  • Finding hours (35%)

Some of it may be attributable to what type of products a retailer is selling. Classic impulse purchases, like a tempting array of chocolate treats, are less vulnerable to showrooming because a hungry consumer does not want to order online and wait several days for the product to be delivered. Big-ticket purchases are more likely to be researched online, particularly if it is a mass-market product that is available from a variety of retail outlets. TVs, home appliances, and consumer electronics are particularly vulnerable to showrooming.

Omni-channel Path to Purchase

While some consumers are doing their comparison shopping in-store before purchasing online, there are others for whom the path to purchase runs in the opposite direction.

Some consumers do their comparison shopping online before heading to a store to purchase from a retailer they trust to be there tomorrow. These consumers value service or support.

Retailers are responding in dramatic ways: Price-matching is a risky strategy some retailers are engaging in. It nudges offline retailers into a price war with e-commerce that they can’t win. U.S. electronics retailer Best Buy announced that starting March 3, 2013, its stores would match the prices of 19 major online competitors, including Apple, Amazon, and Buy.com. Target also has a price-matching policy in effect. Another popular anti-showrooming strategy might be described as the “information blackout.” Some retail chains are blocking cell signals in-store, or adopting proprietary barcodes that won’t allow shoppers to check prices at competitors’ sites. That, too, can backfire – as it is tremendously annoying to customers. In a Masters store recently there was a big sign saying you weren’t allowed to use your mobile phone – yet there were QR codes everywhere.

It Comes Down To A Matter Of Trust

Now that the proliferation of mobile devices has made it so easy to comparison shop across channels, retailers must focus on building a relationship of trust if they want to win the sale. If the consumer can’t count on you to offer them a fair deal, it is all too easy for them to find someone else who will.

Search is often the starting point for in-store mobile activity

While many marketers assume that smartphone shoppers use shopping apps or navigate directly to brand and retail websites while in a store, we found that 82% of smartphone shoppers use mobile search to help make purchase decisions. This represents a critical moment where businesses can win or lose customers – whether they’re navigating the aisle in your store or your competitor’s. Mobile shoppers are looking for information or savings in the key decision moments, so businesses should own the digital shelf by making sure they’re present when customers are searching and that relevant information is easy to find.

Some retailers promote their expanded inventory online or implement a price match guarantee to retain savings-hungry shoppers. Others are putting smartphones to use with QR codes that share more information about products, or apps with store maps and real-time inventory. Whatever tactics marketers choose, it’s clear that smartphones are changing the in-store experience, and that winning the key decision moments at the physical shelves means owning the digital shelves too.

Mobile is an important tool for retailers to incrementally drive traditional in-store sales, strengthening the relationship between retailer and consumer to increase engagement and loyalty.

Retailers that do not engage shoppers through specialized mobile applications or targeted smartphone-based promotions leave the door open for competitors to reach a customer who is standing in the retailer’s store and at the point of purchase.

To make the connection with consumers, retailers need to understand how mobile shoppers are willing to interact with their specific store category, format and merchandise, both inside and outside the store, and customize their mobile strategy around the shopper’s needs and experience.

As the number of smartphone-toting shoppers has increased, so too has the specter of showrooming. No retailer wants to think a competitor, especially a virtual retailer without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar location, has effectively set up shop in their store.

A Final Word

Whatever tactics marketers choose, it’s clear that digital, social and smartphones are changing the path to purchase and in-store experience, and that winning the key decision moments at the physical shelves means owning the digital shelves as well.

Consider focusing on the fundamentals to win against the looming threat of showrooming.

  1. Maintain consistent transparent pricing and promotions across all channels. If consumers know that they’re getting the retailer’s best price in the store, it’s far easier to complete the transaction immediately – instead of shoppers going home to research prices or look for better promotions on the retailer’s e-commerce site. Consistency is vital to building a relationship of trust with the consumer.
  2. Make it easy for consumers at the shelf to shop your online offerings. If the consumer finds a limited selection on the shelf she is going to pull out her mobile device to see what others have to offer. Few retailers make any effort to direct the consumer to their online store, yet a simple sign with a QR code can easily direct her to your site rather than a competitor.
  3. Make it easy to compare products in your online store by providing reviews and side-by-side comparisons. Often consumers pull out their phones to get ratings and reviews. In addition to consistent pricing, make it easy for consumers to compare product features and shopper reviews. Consumers are savvy about weighing conflicting opinions – they know that a negative feature for one shopper can be a reason to purchase for another.
  4. Buy online, pick up in store: powerful features for improved customer service. Lets consumers buy online and pick up in the store. Retailers can greatly improve customer service and turn their stores into powerful assets that pure e-commerce retailers can’t match.
  5. Look For Opportunities To Improve The Customer Experience. While there will always be shoppers who “cherry pick” products based on price alone, the vast majority of shoppers consider showrooming a matter of trust. They expect retailers to offer a good deal along with the information they need to choose the product that best suits their needs.

By leveraging the consumer’s mobile device to provide product information at the right time along with a fair price, they can reduce the threat of showrooming and improve the customer experience.