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While consumer usage of smartphone and tablet devices for shopping purposes is on the rise, the devices’ place in the purchase path is varied. According to several pieces of research by Google, ForeSee Results and Nielsen, shoppers may start in the mobile channel for product research but then purchase in-store. They also may use mobile for product research on the go, then later purchase online on a PC or tablet.
Nielsen’s Q3–Q4 2011 “US Digital Consumer Report” indicates that 29% of smartphone owners use their phone for shopping-related activities. The top mobile shopping activities include in-store price comparisons (38%), browsing products through the mobile web or apps (38%), and reading online product reviews (32%).
A 2011 post-holiday shopping study by Google and Ipsos OTX also depicts consumers using their smartphones at many different points in the purchase path. For instance, 46% of smartphone users who used their mobile device for holiday shopping said they researched an item on their smartphone then went to a store to make their purchase. And 37% said they researched an item on their smartphone then made their purchase online on a computer. Holiday shopping data indicates that no matter the purchase channel, mobile devices are likely to play a role in a mobile user’s purchase process.
The Google study also shows that 41% of smartphone users researched with their mobile device and went on to actually purchase on the smartphone. That data point is higher than in some other mobile commerce studies. For example, a study released in January 2012 by customer experience management firm ForeSee indicates that during the 2011 holiday season only 15% of online shoppers used their phones to make purchases. The phone was most commonly used as a research and price comparison tool. However, Google/Ipsos OTX studied only smartphone owners while ForeSee looked at online shoppers as a whole, a group that includes many feature phone owners as well.
Whether a consumer makes a purchase via mobile or elsewhere, Google’s industry director for retail, Todd Pollak, told eMarketer that retailers need to improve the way they connect the mobile experience with the in-store or web-based shopping experience.
“You would think retailers would be hugely invested in ensuring you’d have an optimized experience on the mobile device, as well as trying to understand how people use it,” he said. “But consumers are way ahead of retailers in terms of their investment in mobile and how that plays into the purchase process.”
Although the path to purchase may appear unclear as consumers conduct the shopping process across multiple channels, Pollak encouraged mobile marketers to think about factors such as a consumer’s distance from a store and the days and times when mobile usage spikes. For example, tablet usage peaks during after-work hours and smartphone usage spikes during weekend days. Connecting and strategizing based on those statistics will help mobile marketers provide more targeted and personalized campaigns akin to the marketing experiences consumers are accustomed to on the web.
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