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The use of mobile phones for offline shopping has increased dramatically over the past few years, and even if consumers aren’t actually making a purchase with their mobiles, they are often using them to research products and prices while shopping.

According to a recent Toluna / Econsultancy survey of UK consumers, 13% of respondents had made a purchase on their mobiles, and 19% had used them to compare prices and look at product reviews while out shopping.


So what can retailers do to adapt to this challenge? 

A recent Motorola survey in the US found that customers have good reason to compare prices on their mobiles. 43% of respondents said the mobile improved their offline shopping experience, while 87% of retailers said that customers would be able to find a better deal by using their phones. 

This may be a relatively small proportion of consumers, but it is growing, and retailers should also consider that, given the costs of smartphones, this is likely to be a group with more disposable income. 

The problem for retailers is that, whatever the quality of service in store and the range of products on offer, shoppers always have the option of checking prices on their mobile phones and heading elsewhere to make the purchase. 

There are a number of mobile apps and websites that enable in store shoppers to check and compare product prices, but Amazon’s mobile products represent possibly the biggest single threat to offline retailers. 

Using the barcode scanner on the Amazon app, or entering a search term, customers can easily check the products they are looking at in a store on Amazon’s site. 

Since so many people have accounts with the retailer and therefore have their payment details saved, added to the fact that Amazon is very competitive on price, a sale can easily be lost to the online retail giant.  

As well as this online competition, customers using price comparison apps could also find that a competitor across the street has the same product at a slightly lower price. 

In the face of this use of technology, offline and multichannel retailers face increasing competition from all channels. 

What weapons do offline retailers have to respond to mobile comparison habits? Or, in other words, how can they stop them using their Amazon app? 

Price match promises

If customers can get a better deal elsewhere for a particular product, then retailers could promise to match the price offered by a competitor. 

This may be enough to keep the customer in store, and if you can sell them a few accessories and other products at the same time, the discount offered may have been worth it. 

When the number of people using mobile for price comparison is relatively low, this discounting tactic may be worth it, but it isn’t a sustainable model in the long term.  

The ‘want it now’ mentality 

Sure, an online competitor may have the TV that a customer wants for £40 less, but can they deliver it today, in time for the big match / royal wedding etc? 

Same day delivery services such as those provided by Amazon and Shutl (for retailers like Argos) mean the answer to this question is can be yes, but at the moment these delivery options are only available in the London area. 

At the moment, this want it now mentality gives the offline retailer an advantage over online competitors. 

Voucher codes

For retailers that offer voucher codes online, allowing these codes to be redeemed in-store by mobile users is one-way to appeal to this group of shoppers. 

Apps such as Voucher Cloud allow mobile users to find stores offering discounts in their current location, and therefore offer a method of tempting more customers into stores. 

In addition, many consumers will simply type brand name + voucher code into Google on their mobiles. 

Embrace mobile

There are plenty of compelling reasons for retailers to launch mobile sites and apps, and appealing to offline shoppers is certainly one. 

If customers are going to use mobile for product and price research, then why not give them the option of doing this on your site or app? 

Debenhams recently launched iPhone and Android apps which feature a barcode scanner. Not only does this help the retailer to pick up more mobile sales – and it had reached the £1m mark after five months – but the scanner makes it easy for customers to compare prices. 

Thanks to the barcode scanner, when users of the Debenhams app are in rival stores, they can easily check and compare prices, which effectively widens the retailers’ reach. 

If your customers can check out product details and read reviews in your store, through your own app or mobile site, this reduces the risk that they will head elsewhere. 

Get your store listed on mobile comparison apps

There are a number of price comparison apps and mobile sites, such as Sccope and PriceRunner. 

For retailers, these apps offer the opportunity to make up for lost in store sales by picking up more via mobile. 

This also gives retailers a chance to pick up sales from mobile users shopping in competitors’ stores. 

Recreate some of the online experience in store

One of the main reasons for customers to use their mobiles is to find reviews of products they have seen in store. 

If I’m in an electrical store wondering which digital camera to buy, online reviews provide a great resource to help me make a decision.  The problem for the retailer is, though I may only have gone online to look for some user reviews, I may also find the same camera at a lower price. 

I like the recommendations that can often be found in bookshops and wine merchants, which have been written by staff. They can help customers decide what to buy, and also have a personal touch that can appear more trustworthy. 

In the same vein, retailers could take the product reviews that have been left online by customers (or those from reviews providers) and make use of them in stores. 

If shoppers can see genuine reviews of products that have been left by other customers, then they needn’t head for Amazon to find them. 

QR codes

QR (Quick Response) codes can be scanned by mobile users, provided they have the necessary code reader app installed. 

Awareness of QR codes may not be widespread just yet, but they do offer retailers a ways to appeal to smartphone users in store. 

Debenhams used QR codes in its windows to entice mobile users into the store with the offer of a free coffee, where hopefully they would decide to buy something, but there are other potential uses. 

For example, QR codes could be used at point of sale to send mobile users to a landing page where they can find out more product information and read reviews, or they could be used to offer discounts and special offers. 

Use mobile to enhance the in store experience

French supermarket chain Casino provides a great example of how retailers can link mobile with the in store experience. 

Its mCasino iPhone app allows users to access the shopping list they have prepared online and helps them to plan their route around the supermarket, making their weekly shop that little bit easier. 

The app will alert customers of items they need to get from their list as they approach the related aisle in the store, and the same technology can be used to target customers with product suggestions and special offers. 

In a similar vein, Harrods' recently released iPhone app helps to direct users around the department store as they shop. 

Graham Charlton

Published 27 June, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (12)

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Nick Stamoulis

The mCasino iPhone app sounds like a great way to integrate their brand and mobile marketing. Companies can't go mobile just to go mobile. There needs to be a reason behind their actions. Finding a way to help the consumer while simultaneously promote your brand is key.

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Nick - I don't think companies should go mobile just for the sake of it, there should be a purpose.

However, a retailer with at least a fews stores and an online presence should be able find a reason, whether it's an m-commerce site, a store locator app, a barcode scanner, or whatever...

about 5 years ago

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Adam Fellowes, Head of User Experience at Digirati

The points here are well made, personally I often leave a shop if I can't get a connection in store to make a comparison, price check or view a full spec - the worst scenario for the retailer.

Most stores in their construction mean that mobile reception is poor or non-existent, if stores provided free wireless access for customers so that they can do all that is noted in the article then its a case of 'want it now' or am I prepared to wait for delivery and all the issues that are related such as time slot, signatures, redelivery and collection.

Another offline retailer problem that is becoming more and more apparent is the lack of stock. If a shop can't hold enough stock to meet demand then they are just online retail showrooms where items can be viewed - thats their own doing. Secondly if I can't quickly pay for the goods due to lack of staff at the till then I'll also leave.

A lot of the motivations for in store mobile retail are the lack of quality, knowledgable staff at the point at which I'm reaching for my wallet that just happens to be next to my mobile phone.

about 5 years ago

Stephen Thair

Stephen Thair, Director at Seriti Consulting

I totally get having a slick in-store mobile experience e.g. QR codes to take you to detailed product info, reviews etc because god knows you can never find a salesperson in-store these days, let alone one that knows anything about the products.

But I think commercially that stores need to be aware that enabling price comparison, whilst good for the consumer, just enables a "race to the bottom" on price.

It's really nice to be able to browse around in store in the ambience of John Lewis et al and when I scan the price of that lovely new Samsung TV and find that its £200 cheaper at "SamsungTVsRus.co.uk" (1) John Lewis don't price match online-only stores and (2) many of the online retailers have better delivery prices and policies that the high-street retailers.

So great, I've decided the TV I want because I've window-shopped at John Lewis, powered by all the extra comparison information available on my phone/tablet due to QR codes, online reviews etc.

I have had a seamless on-line/offline multi-channel shopping experience.

I just didn't buy from you. But thanks anyway :-)

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Stephen,

That's the challenge, and I agree that price matching alone is not the answer.

However, retailers need to realise that this is happening whether they like it or not, and they need to develop strategies to counter this.

In the case of John Lewis - especially for a big purchase like an expensive TV- it can emphasise other selling points beyond just price, such as a 5 year guarantee or free delivery.

about 5 years ago

Stephen Thair

Stephen Thair, Director at Seriti Consulting

Hi Graham,

I've long thought that the solution is a "different kind of store" more akin to a "consignment store" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consignment).

One of the main factors in people's hesitation in buying online is that they want to "kick the tires" - they want to physically see, touch, manipulate, use the item that's for sale.

Pictures in an online catalogue are nice but it doesn't cover the intangibles - how heavy is it, does it fit into my hand, what's the quality of the fit and finish like. Customer reviews help here, but someone else's opinion isn't as good as my 1st person experiences.

So... envisage a store, possibly something on the scale of a B&Q warehouse.

Vendors (either the original manufacturer in a direct-to-market model or an online vendor) provide demonstration models of the items for display on the shop floor. Part of their range, their entire range, whatever.

Lots of QR codes, free wi-fi, detailed product information at kiosks etc. Heck, have iPad's for people to use in-store. Very few, if any, actual sales staff.

You want to buy? Do it online, here's our discount code, affiliate link etc. Use your device or our kiosk. Delivered to your door within 48 hours, subject to stock availability, which you can check online.

No checkouts. No stock holding. No inventory. Low overheads. No merchant fees. No cash handling.

Just a place to kick the tyres.

And if the "consignment store" owner wants to have more value-add they can (1) have knowledgeable "Advisors" (2) act as a "delivery depo" so the delivery comes to the store and you can collect when convenient (so you don't have to wait at home) (3) installation (4) repairs agent (5) training (6) extra warranties etc. Anything that doesn't incur actually messing about with stock! :-)

What do you think?

about 5 years ago

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Adam Fellowes, Head of User Experience at Digirati

@Stephen, I'd shop there, might end up a bit like a trade show but I like the concept. Its a practical reason for retailers to do mobile rather than doing mobile because everyone else is.

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Nice idea, a bit like Argos in some ways.

It does solve some of the issues, and I'm all for use of iPads, kiosks etc, but having made the journey to the store, would people be prepared to wait for delivery?

This is OK for some purchases (sofas etc) but one advantage offline retailers have is the option to take purchases home the same day.

about 5 years ago

Stephen Thair

Stephen Thair, Director at Seriti Consulting

@Adam - yes, I was thinking about that after I wrote it - a permanent "trade show" is a great way of looking at it, albeit with the crucial ability to "transact" there & then (albeit online) which you can't always do at trade shows.

@Graham - the "impulse purchase" and "immediate gratification" is a tough one. The key to the economics of this model would be not having to carry stock etc otherwise you are just competing with the Currys/Comet/Best Buy/Argos's of the world.

The idea is to create a proper "hybrid" model - real-world product evaluation with online fulfilment, not just the existing "High St plus a website" "Clicks&Mortar" model nor the "online only" alternative.

It would be fun to really kick the idea around with some retailers and customers! I wonder if I can get on Dragon's Den... :-)

about 5 years ago

Angelos Taplatzidis

Angelos Taplatzidis, Marketing Executive at IBM

Fantastic article! But the author is focusing too much on technologies which will help the in-store shopping experience to integrate with mobile use.

It isnt realistic to argue that every shop can be equally competitive to the likes of Debenhams, Harrods and Casino. This is like promoting the death of the smaller merchants.
There are a few simple reasons why smaller outlets still survive and that simply is the human element - knowledgeable, warm people who will help you make a decission regardless if you would spend £5 less online.

Angelos Taplatzidis

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Angelos, the focus in integrating the in store experience with mobile was the whole point of the article. The examples here are from larger retailers because, in general, they have the budgets and reach to justify such investment.

However, though smaller retailers can always differentiate themselves by providing a personal touch, there are still things they can do to appeal to mobile users - Google Places listings, Yelp etc.

about 5 years ago

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Matt Isaacs, Senior Ecommerce Manager at Perricone MD

@ Stephen

Just to check I've got this right...

I'm looking at buying a tv, so I go to the store; check the picture is suitable, then go home and make a purchase online and then go back to the store to pick it up?

Is this not already possible by just popping down to the Dixons? Only, at least in Dixons they might attempt a price match, free warranty, etc, so that I can take it home there and then.

I would imagine if the key is saving money on retail space by not holding stock, you'd be better opening a store with very, very limited stock and advertising two prices, e.g.

"Buy today £1000"
"Delivery or Collection £900"

That way you are offering the online and offline prices within a retail environment and the added value that comes with both.

I just think otherwise its limiting options to customers rather than expanding them. Just my thoughts.

Jonny

about 5 years ago

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