How smartphones are changing the way we shop

From price comparison to contactless payments and impulse buying, retailers need to keep up with the smartphone revolution.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

As the ownership of smartphones has grown we have seen these pocket devices become a fundamental part of people’s lives. A natural part of this is that the era of the smartphone is ushering in significant changes to the way people shop.

In our pockets: who’s got one?

With 60% of us in the UK now owning a smartphone – including 60% of children aged 8-12 – it is predicted this pocket-sized tool will overtake tablets, PCs and laptops as the nation’s primary device for internet use by the end of 2013. 

Surrounded by predictions and concerns about the rise of the e-tailer and death of the high-street, we wanted to get an overview of how consumers’ growing attachments to their mobiles were likely to change shopping. 

From online shopping on the go and product research to payment via app or nearfield communications, the smartphone has already had a significant impact on the world of retail. 

What are we using them for?

Our research shows that 67% of smartphone owners in the UK have used their phones as part of the shopping process – with 59% using them to search for products online, 41% to read an online product review and 38% buying via retailer website or app. This demonstrates how m-commerce is already becoming an established part of many people’s lives. 

The smartphone’s primary use in shopping currently seems to surround only the product research and price comparison phase, however. Our research showed there are still some concerns over the security of new mobile payment methods – via app or nearfield communications (where customers pay by swiping their phone). 

There is also consumer scepticism about ‘augmented reality apps’ – which show you product information when you hold your phone up in a shop – with only 13% of smartphone owners ever having used one. 

One thing that does seem to be taking off, however, is impulse buying via mobile: 17% of smartphone owners admitted having bought something on impulse because their mobile gave them such easy access.

The smartphone era: what it means for brands and retailers

Most retailers are well aware by now the bricks-and-mortar store is only one part of a far broader customer outlook.In light of this, the smartphone’s research and price comparison use has given rise to a ripple of fear among retailers over ‘showrooming’.

This is when customers enter a store to check out the product they’re interested in, and then turn to a cheaper e-tail alternative to make their purchase.To stay competitive in the age of m-commerce, retailers must make efforts to minimise the price gap between their products and those found on e-commerce-only businesses. 

To be successful in the age of the smartphone, retailers need to adopt marketing strategies, which acknowledge, understand and embrace this consumer evolution. If you can align your business to the needs of the tech-savvy shopper, you’ll keep them coming back for more…


Pauline Robson is director of real world insight, and Stefan Bardega is head of digital, both at MediaCom.

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