Retailers Are Wary of the Smartphone Wielding Shoppers

Phone-Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers (Wall Street Journal)

Consumers Use Smartphone to Research ProductsIn a previous post, we noted how consumers are becoming smarter shoppers and how technology is playing a key role.  As technology continues to advance us to having instant access to almost anything, retailers are facing a host of issues with repercussions that could change how retailing is done.  Thanks to such technologies as search engines, product rating sites and mobile devices, today’s consumers are in a far better position to assess the value of a purchase than they have ever been.  While the average consumer does not yet possess the product comparison and negotiation skills of a corporate purchasing agent, technology is helping them get closer.

The ramifications for retailers of tech-savvy consumers are tremendous, especially in terms of consumers’ use of mobile devices.  While store-based retailers are accustom to dealing with educated customers (i.e., shoppers who have done their research), before mobile technology these retailers at least had an advantage of providing something new once the consumer walked into the store.  The retailer could offer updated product details, new promotions, new pricing and other information the consumer did not know before the store visit and, consequently, could not easily research while in the store.  However, with today’s mobile technologies even new information can be quickly researched by shoppers while they are still in the store.

As explained in this story, one of the key bits of information in-store consumers seek with their mobile devices is a price comparison.  Shoppers can use smartphones and even pad technologies (e.g., iPad) to quickly search other retailers to determine whether the product sitting in front of them on a display table is actually a bargain.  Even easier, snapping a picture of a product’s UPC code using a smartphone camera can provide the consumer with a list of places selling the same product and the prices they are charging.

But, things do not just end with a search.  Possibly, the biggest slap in the face of store-based retailers comes from consumers who are willing to wait to acquire the product.  These consumers may window shop at the physical store and while still in the store place the order for the product with another retailer who will ship it directly to their residence, often at no charge.

Now, marketers must contend with shoppers who can use their smartphones inside stores to check whether the specials are really so special, and if the rest of the merchandise is reasonably priced.

Is there anything retailers can do to take advantage of this new level of consumer shopping behavior?  How threatening are these mobile devices to retailers?

Image by sleepyneko

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