What Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Need to Know About Mobile Shopping

Just how much of a threat is mobile shopping to brick-and-mortar retail? A new study offers some hard facts.
Contributing Writer, SmallBizTrends.com
March 13, 2012

We heard a lot of buzz over the holiday season about how much Americans were shopping with their mobile phones. Now that the dust has settled, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has some hard facts about how mobile is changing the face of retail. Bricks-and-mortar store owners, listen up.

The survey of over 1,000 adults found that more than half (57 percent) used their cell phones to get help with purchasing decisions while they were in a store during the 2011 holiday season (defined as a 30-day period before and after Christmas). Specifically:

  • 38 percent of cell owners called a friend from a store to get advice about a purchase they were considering.
  • 24 percent used their phones to look up online product reviews while they were in a store.
  • 25 percent looked up the price of a product using their phones while they were in a store to see if they could get a better price elsewhere.

Pew also reports that researching prices online and looking up online reviews frequently go hand in hand. Overall, of the 33 percent of cell phone owners who looked up products reviews, about half also checked prices and vice versa. However, certain demographic groups are more likely to look up reviews. Cell phone owners ages 18 to 49, those in urban or suburban areas, college graduates and nonwhites were the most likely to look up online product reviews.

Now, here’s the part you’re not going to like. Among the consumers who looked up prices online while in a physical store, what did they do next?

  • 37 percent decided to not purchase the product at all
  • 35 percent purchased the product at that store
  • 19 percent purchased the product online
  • 8 percent purchased the product at another store

Clearly, the availability of online information has drastically increased the competition brick-and-mortar businesses are facing. How can you fight back and woo the 27 percent of customers who, after looking up data in-store, buy elsewhere?

First, make sure you’re putting as much information out there as you can. The mobile game works both ways—if customers in your competitors’ store search prices and find that your business offers a product for less, they just might buy from you. So make sure your website is mobile-optimized and that price information is easy to find.

Second, encourage reviews—not just of your store but also of products purchased there. If you sell products online as well as in-store, consider adding a “review this product” feature to your website so customers can post their own reviews.

Third, if you don’t already have e-commerce capabilities on your site, consider adding them. Today, you need to give customers choices about how they can buy from you. Selling an edited selection of your in-store products online is a good start.

Fourth, make sure your in-store service is stellar. Not all customers shop on price—and as a small business, your edge is your personalized, exemplary service.

Last, and most important, don’t get caught in a price war. Yes, some customers may leave and buy elsewhere if you’re not offering rock-bottom prices. But if matching those prices cuts your profit margin to the bone, you need to reconsider. Chasing these customers is a game no small business can win. Focus on what you do best: serving the customers who are right for your business.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at @rieva and visit her blog at SmallBizDaily.com. Visit her website SmallBizTrendCast to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Photo credit: iStockphoto