The Smartphone: A Holiday Shopper’s Crutch
Smartphone ownership is quickly becoming the norm for American consumers. The devices can efficiently accommodate thousands of personal needs, one of which is to assist in and augment the traditional shopping experience. The 2010 holiday season has arrived, and retailers and shoppers alike are beginning to crack the surface in terms of utilizing smartphone capabilities to their advantages. A few of these capabilities include Quick Response (QR) codes, mobile check-in apps and price comparison apps.
By Greg Bulmash, Digital Integration and Innovation
Thanksgiving has come and gone, and retailers are salivating for the next few weeks as holiday shoppers spend money on gifts for their loved ones. For decades, Black Friday has brought about hype and mania at brick-and-mortar shops. For those consumers who would prefer to avoid the 3:00 A.M. alarm-clock settings and crowd surfing associated with Black Friday, Internet retailers offer enticing sales on Cyber Monday. While both are a means of acquiring holiday gifts, each one offers a completely different shopping experience — one is traditional and the other is digital. With the significant spike in smartphone ownership, however, we are beginning to see these two experiences merge.
Currently, 35% of mobile phone users in the U.S. own a smartphone, and Nielsen estimates that penetration will increase to 50% by Holiday 2011.10
Of the population that uses smartphones as a shopping tool, adults ages 24-44 make up two-thirds.11
These gadgets can enhance a consumer’s holiday shopping efforts by easing stress and making the experience increasingly interactive and personal. Here are just a few examples:
Implications and Action Items
- Quick Response (QR) Codes are essentially bar codes made up of squiggly lines and shapes. In retail, they tend to appear on in-store displays and product packaging. Any smartphone owner can download a QR reader app and then use the device’s camera to snap a photo of the QR code. The phone can then bring the consumer directly to promotional materials such as a website, coupons, price comparisons and product descriptions. Best Buy uses this technology to help shoppers organize wish lists.
- Mobile Check-in Apps are location-based tools that allow users to notify friends of their current whereabouts and vice versa. The most notable facilitators of these services include Foursquare and Facebook Places. Shoppers who check in the most at certain stores are rewarded with purchasing benefits such as discounts and the competitive pride of outdoing fellow shoppers.
- Price Comparison Apps relieve holiday shoppers of the pressure to save money and the time crunch associated with seeking better deals on the same product across multiple retailers. One particular example, RedLaser, allows users to scan the product label with their phone, which then brings up a listing of all the nearby retailers and their respective prices for the same product.
Retailers are still finding ways to implement smartphone-compatible technologies into the shopping experience. Many applications are in the early-adapter phase, and there is still work to be done in finding unique and relevant ways to reach target consumers. Regardless, two facts are inevitable: 1) both the popularity and technological capabilities of smartphones are increasing at a swift rate, and 2) a combination of in-person and digital shopping is an opportunity to engage customers while they are occupied with the traditional point-of-sale. It is not a matter of whether most retailers will begin embracing smartphones as a consumer tool, but how and when.
For marketers, there are a few strategies to leverage in order to engage in-store shoppers via mobile devices:
10 GigaOM, “1 in 2 Americans Will Have a Smartphone by Christmas 2011.” March 2010. http://tiny.cc/izufk. [Accessed 12/3/2010]
- Emphasize apps as an efficient means of access, but not as a replacement for in-person assistance.
- Entice customers to act with smartphones with the result being personalized recommendations and rewards.
- Facilitate a 360° brand presence with the portable digital experience consistent to the in-store experience.
- Keep an eye on the competition and offer benefits accordingly.
11 Chicago Tribune, “Mobile Shopping Clicks with Consumers, Retailers.” November 2010. http://tiny.cc/qdopr [Accessed 12/3/2010]