Leveraging the Impact of Smartphones on the In-Store Shopping Experience

If you own a brick and mortar retail business and cringe whenever you see customers wielding smartphones, you might want to rethink things a bit. We've all heard horror stories about showrooming - people visiting local businesses, scoping out the merchandise and then using their smartphones to find the same items online for a lower price.

As a result of the media attention surrounding showrooming and the potential negative impact in in-store retail purchases, many merchants have a negative view of consumer smartphone use in-store. As recently as March a store in Australia received a lot of media attention for charging customers a $5 ‘looking fee’. But, a recent report from Google may just change many people’s minds.

The report - "How In-Store Shoppers are Using Mobile Devices" - features the results of a study that was performed in conjunction with The Google Shopper Marketing Agency Council and M/A/R/C Research. After examining the behaviors of some 1,500 smartphone users, researchers discovered that mobile can add incremental sales for a brick and mortar business. The trick is knowing how to leverage mobile, rather than fear it.

How does this research show merchants that they should encourage smartphone use in their store? The proof is in the numbers. For one thing, 84 percent of all smartphone users use their devices in brick and mortar stores. It's a losing battle to try to stop them. What's more telling is that 79 percent of smartphone owners are smartphone shoppers, and 90 percent of smartphone users use their devices to perform research prior to stepping foot in physical stores. One in three smartphone users turn to their devices before asking for help from store employees. The most dramatic point of all, however, is that smartphone users buy more in brick and mortar stores than shoppers who don't use mobile devices.

How can merchants leverage this information to enhance their business model? The first step is doing away with the idea that smartphone use in stores is going to be the downfall of brick and mortar retail. As the report suggests, it can actually increase sales. Merchants shouldn't just embrace this behavior; they should encourage it. A few of the best ways to do so include:

  • Mobile Optimization - If you don't already have a mobile friendly site, it's time to get on that. You may be tempted to have an app developed instead, but the study shows that mobile sites are the way to go. Indeed, 65 percent of shoppers prefer mobile websites while 35 percent prefer apps. There's no harm in having both, of course. Just make sure your mobile presence that works properly. That can be achieved by having a separate mobile site developed, but a better way to go is to have a responsive site developed. Responsive sites adapt according to the device that's used to render them, so there's no need to maintain separate websites.
  • Make Pre-Shopping Research Easy - The report shows that shoppers visit mobile sites to conduct pre-shopping research. If they find the information they need, they're more likely to visit brick and mortar stores. Make sure your mobile site prominently displays information like hours of operation, location, promotions and product information. If they don't find the info they need on your site, they'll probably look on different sites and end up in different stores.
  • Accept Mobile Payments - If at all possible, accept mobile payments. Options like Google Wallet and ISIS aren't very widespread yet, but their popularity is growing. Promote the fact that you accept mobile payments too. It will help your store stand out from the competition in a big way.
  • Engage in Showrooming - You should embrace in-store mobile use as much as possible, and showrooming is a great way to do so. It simply means showing customers that you are happy for them to use their mobile devices in your store and encourage them to do so. It can include something as simple as having QR codes displayed next to various products. Customers can scan the codes to learn more about the merchandise. Another idea is to promote your e-commerce site right in the store. For example, explain that additional options are available online and include a QR code that leads the customer right to the product or product category.
  • Distinguish Your Physical Store from Online Stores - The right mobile marketing will bring people into your store, and that's great. How can you get them to stay there, though? Showrooming is a terrific option, but you should find other ways to stand out from the crowd. Train your employees well to ensure that they are very knowledgeable. Your customers will have done a lot of research on their own, so your employees need to be up to par. Knowing they can go into your store for expert advice will encourage them to come back in the future. Interactive demos are also worthwhile options to consider. After all, people can't actually handle the merchandise when shopping online.
  • Engage in Omni-Channel Marketing - Don't make your mobile marketing strategy separate from your other marketing efforts. Through omni-channel marketing, you can provide a seamless shopping experience to your customers. You can even personalize their shopping experiences based on their buying habits, which increases customer loyalty.

This study confirms that consumers love using their smartphones while shopping in physical stores. Instead of digging in your heels and sticking to old ways, embrace this exciting shift in behavior. By finding ways to encourage and embrace smartphone use, you can make the most of all kinds of exciting opportunities today and in the future.