On a cold, crisp Thursday night in Montreal, a large-scale downtown bookstore is filled with customers perusing rows of books, toys and home décor objects with their smartphones and mini-tablets in hand. Among them, a frowning middle-aged man is doing comparison shopping on the store’s competitor website while a fidgety, lip-biting red-haired woman is nervously posting a picture of a green fluffy monster to Facebook in order to get her friends opinion on this last-minute gift idea for her five-year-old niece before the store closes.
The widespread use of smartphones and tablets has become both a blessing and a curse for retailers. Mobile shoppers want instant access to information. When they use their phones inside a store or en route to a retail location, they aren’t interested in doing intensive research. They are preparing themselves to make a purchase and are using their mobile phones as tools to find local deals or to do some comparison shopping in a quick and efficient way. Consumers have become much savvier about shopping thanks to their mobile devices. Many shoppers can now be seen “showrooming” or browsing stores with their smartphones held out to gather information about products before they decide to buy the items online.
Word of wisdom
The Verge recently reported the story of an Australian retail storeowner who started charging customers $5 for “just looking,” in order to offset losses from shoppers who browse and then buy online. Are retailers reacting adeptly and quickly enough to this new breed of mobile consumers who use their smartphones as decision-making tools to guide them through their shopping experiences? As consumers are increasingly using their smartphones to discover what’s around them, retailers need to get smarter about how to use mobile to their advantage by rethinking the offline shopping experience to meet the needs of mobile-empowered shoppers.