December 7, 2011, 2:20 PM

Smartphones are transforming consumers’ path to purchase

Shoppers are increasingly using their phones inside stores, says a new report.

Lead Photo

Roughly half of all smartphone owners use their devices while shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores, a 21 percentage point increase from a year ago, according to a new report from New York-based marketing consultants WSL/Strategic Retail.

“This behavior is growing so quickly that retailers have to pay attention because this will be commonplace in a year or two,” says Candace Corlett, WSL/Strategic Retail president.

Retailers have to understand what consumers are doing with their phones, she says. Among the main reasons consumers pull out their phones inside store are to compare prices (56% of those using their phones), taking pictures of products (53%) and seeking coupons or discounts (46%).

There are a slew of ways that retailers can entice shoppers using their phones to complete their purchases inside stores, Corlett says. For instance, next to a product’s price retailers can place QR codes to give consumers access to more information. QR codes are a form of 2-D bar code that links the physical world—such as a code on a product or a sign—to the mobile realm, such as a site with customer reviews or videos.“Retailers have to look at what smartphone users are looking for—they want to make better buying decisions,” says Corlett. “Retailers should help them do so.”

The report also found that shopping apps, which the consultancy defines as everything from a retailer’s mobile e-commerce app to a price comparison app, are the fourth most downloaded category of mobile app, behind only games (67% of smartphone owners have downloaded a game), social media (66%), music (57%). At 46%, shopping apps are tied with news apps.

35% of consumers who have downloaded a shopping app say they did so to receive in-store deals and sales, while 33% say apps enable them to read QR codes or scan bar codes for product information, and 28% use apps to navigate stores.

While mobile is increasingly being used in stores, shoppers are turning to social media to find discounts before shopping online or venturing into a store. The percentage of shoppers looking for social media-exclusive offers increased 50% year over year. “Brand participation on social networks comes with the expectation that they’ll get something back,” says Corlett. “Consumers who Like a brand expect to feel like they’re part of an exclusive club and to get rewards, promotions or coupons that come from that relationship.”

The report is based on an Internet survey of 1,702 consumers conducted from Sept. 8 to Sept. 12.

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