November 3, 2011, 11:51 AM

Retailers face a new shopping reality

Online, mobile and in-store distinctions make little difference to consumers.

Lead Photo

You’ve read the data. Of the 42% of U.S. consumers that own a smartphone, 27% intend to use it during their holiday shopping this year, according to a study from consulting firm Deloitte. And Google Inc. projects that in December 44% of last-minute gift and store location searches will be made with mobile devices.

Hesitant retailers who fail to devise an e-commerce, mobile commerce and in-store strategy for providing consumers with a similar look and tools across all three channels could imperil some sales, industry experts suggested this week at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco.

“Consumers no longer look at online as a different part of their lives,” says Osama Bedier, vice president of payments at Google Inc. Consumers look at a retailer’s online and mobile sites as one, he adds.

In my personal experience I can attest that he’s onto something. Best Buy Co. Inc. seems to stand out. Best Buy's e-commerce site, mobile app and mobile commerce site share similar colors and use a common navigation scheme, with buttons for products and the weekly ad across the top of each.

Each day I find a new use for my smartphone. I’m going to buy a certain set of products anyway, and I look to my smartphone as a tool to find the best value. That may mean I’m willing to pay a little more in exchange for finding the product I need right now.

Google is banking on that. Just as Google makes money from online advertising, Bedier expects to generate revenue from mobile searches by placing ads next to those search results. “The opportunity is all around us,” he says. “We want to empower merchants to better leverage their advertising dollars.”

That advertising could help consumers, like myself, find the right products when I need them, using whichever device I happen to be in front of or holding in my hands. Any distinction between channels is irrelevant.

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