February 2, 2012, 3:03 PM

Do farmers compare prices via smartphones?

New demographics provide intriguing insights into the smartphone shopper.

Getting a lower price, it appears, is an unconditional quest for many consumers. At least, that’s one conclusion I draw from a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers that found 33% of urban and 26% of suburban consumers wielded smartphones in store aisles to compare prices. In comparison, 9% of those living in rural areas made these price checks, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Retailers have to figure out a plan to contend with the new ways that consumers shop. In the days of yore, before smartphones, data plans and reliable cell phone signals, shoppers used e-commerce sites to check prices, which was easier than going from store to store. Now, with the Internet in their pockets, consumers can stand inside a store and check the prices of many sellers without trekking home or to another mall.

I have some theories why fewer rural shoppers engage in in-store price checking. One, smartphone penetration may not be as high in rural markets as in cities. Two, the wireless signal may not be fast enough to warrant an online search. And, three, rural consumers may have fewer stores to choose from, an especially significant factor if the consumer doesn’t want to wait for a product to ship.

Retailers aren’t going to ignore rural consumers, but they shouldn’t be forgotten either. Smartphone adoption is going to increase. More than 126 million U.S. consumers will own a smartphone by 2013, a 147% increase from the nearly 51 million smartphone owners in 2008, according to research firm eMarketer.

While many rural consumers may not be checking prices while in the stores, there’s nothing to prevent shoppers from checking prices from their desktop computers. Everybody wants the best deal.

Look for more on the subject of who the smartphone shopper is and how they shop in stores in a story I’m writing for the March issue of Internet Retailer.

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