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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.
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.
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 (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.