December 6, 2010, 3:40 PM

Shoppers would rather use smartphones than consult store associates, survey finds

And 48% have downloaded at least one retail app, with 90% finding apps useful.

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Smartphones are changing the ways shoppers interact with retailers, a new study from research and consulting firm Accenture finds.

73% of shoppers with smartphones favor using their smartphone to handle simple tasks in stores compared with 15% who favor interaction with an employee, the survey says.  Similarly, 71% favor using their smartphone to identify a store with a desired item in stock, while 17% would prefer to get that information by speaking to an employee.

“Smartphones will permanently change the relationship between the store and the shopper,” says Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice. “Today’s tech-savvy consumer wants a seamless shopping experience across store, mobile or online at a time that suits them. Ultimately, this trend will lead to a new definition of the store; purpose, place and size are all up for debate. Already we are seeing some shoppers treating stores more like a showroom to test products and then making their purchase online.”

The survey presents good news for retailers that have taken the plunge and created mobile apps. 69% of smartphone users are aware of smartphone apps from large retailers and 48% have downloaded at least one app. 90% of consumers who have downloaded an app from a large retailer found it “very useful” or “useful.”

The survey also found that smartphone users would find it useful to download coupons to their phones (79%) and receive instant coupons as they pass by an item in a store (73%).

But privacy remains an important concern of consumers. 54% of respondents worry that using smartphones will erode their privacy.

Overall, though, 56% of shoppers with smartphones believe smartphones will make the shopping experience more enjoyable, the survey finds.

“The greater use of smartphones for shopping creates opportunities and challenges for retailers in equal measure,” Hoffman says. “Companies need to use all of their customer information to better understand how and when their customers want to engage with them, ask them questions, or just check some basic product details. Only then can they deliver a personalized and enjoyable experience, while lessening the risk of alienating customers through unwanted approaches.”

The survey of 1,000 consumers with smartphones was conducted by Lightspeed Research for Accenture. The firms surveyed 100 consumers in each of 10 countries, including the United States, France, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Japan, China and India.

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