Soon All Shoppers Will Be Mobile Shoppers

New Study From Arc Worldwide Reveals Mobile's Growing Role in Shopping and a Glimpse at the Future

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The entire digital marketing world is quickly converging on mobile -- and for good reason. But that reason will ultimately have less to do with avian projectiles and porcine targets, and more to do with mobile's growing impact on how and why people buy what they buy.

That's because the mobile phone is quickly becoming Americans' favorite shopping partner.

Thanks to the increasing purchases and usage of smartphones, approximately 50% of adults aged 18-64 in the U.S. are mobile shopping. With all of these technologically advanced phones in pockets and purses, the way people shop is changing -- and anyone interested in selling anything to anybody had better take notice.

Mobile shopping is not one activity
Mobile-shopping behaviors include using one's phone to facilitate any part of the shopping experience -- from comparing products, evaluating prices, and selecting where to buy, to sharing product photos, tweeting price details, and actually completing the transaction. The mobile shopping experience can also include activities post-purchase, such as returning or servicing a product.

At Arc Worldwide, we conducted a nationwide quantitative survey of 1,800 mobile-phone owners, followed by qualitative research using webcams, Flip video cameras, and shop-alongs as shoppers utilized their phones in the shopping experience. Two key findings cast a light on who is mobile shopping and how, and what it means for the future.

Lights shall inherit the future
Mobile shoppers fall into two groups. Heavy mobile shoppers comprise about 20% of all mobile shoppers and drive 80% of the activity volume. Light mobile shoppers comprise the rest.

Heavies love their phones, using them to share photos, download music, and check the news. They also love any form of shopping, whether it be at home, on a computer, or in the store. It's not surprising that they really enjoy the nexus -- indexing 10 times higher than lights in mobile shopping. Heavy mobile shoppers know and use mobile as a specialized tool for shopping.

Light mobile shoppers have a much narrower outlook toward mobile with regard to shopping. They see it primarily as an inferior portable computer, and therefore primarily use it in the car and on the go. Sixty-two percent of light mobile shoppers told us it was just easier to go online from a computer vs. shopping on their phone.

While heavies have driven the growth of mobile shopping thus far, our research indicates that future growth will come from a small group of lights with the greatest potential to become heavies. We call them high potential mobile shoppers. They love their mobile phones and shopping in the way heavies do, but haven't yet converted their shopping activities onto their phones.


High potentials have limited awareness of what the mobile phone can do for shopping. They get the basics, like search, visiting mobile sites, and checking their email for deals -- but apps are an issue. High potentials are simply not familiar with the feature-rich apps that might help them check if a product is in stock or inform them how other consumers have rated the product. For this group, perusing 350,000 apps in the online Apple Store (where there is currently no shopping category) is simply a non-starter.

Converting these high potentials into heavy mobile shoppers requires reframing their perception of mobile for shopping. Because these shoppers are not into novelty and experimentation, they need to discover the functional benefits of shopping via mobile in order to move from seeing it as an inferior computer substitute to a tool that helps save time and money, and enhances their shopping experience on the go and in the store.

Not all mobile activities are created equal
In the universe of mobile shopping, there are some well-adopted activities and others that are used less frequently. Some of these activities are highly influenced by traditional mobile behaviors, while others are strongly influenced by traditional shopping behaviors.

Based on their origins and influences, and guided by our research findings, we have identified four quadrants of mobile-shopping activities, each with its own keys to success with mobile shoppers:

  • Well-adopted mobile tasks. Example: using the phone to look up store addresses, hours, and locations. Key: cover the basics such as optimizing email and search functionalities with technology vendors such as Google.
  • Well-adopted shopping tasks. Example: using the phone to compare products and prices, check on order status, and search for deals. Key: create proprietary retailer solutions, customized by category.
  • Specialized, less-adopted mobile tasks. Example: sharing opinions or tweeting price deals. Key: partner with industry leaders such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
  • Advanced, less-adopted shopping tasks. Example: viewing product demos, preordering for quicker pick-up, using gift registries. Key: take well-adopted shopping tasks and enhance them within your own platform.

If shoppers use a generic app like Amazon price checker instead of your app, you risk losing the sale to a competitor. That's why Target , Best Buy, and Toys R Us built a barcode scanning feature into their own apps. Now they can provide pricing information AND product information that are seen as valuable to the shopper and can potentially keep the sale within their store.

Mobilize your thinking
The findings above hint at the complexities -- and opportunities -- inherent in marketing to the mobile shopper, and soon, every shopper. The answers lie in a deeper understanding of the intricacies and complexities of the increasingly non-linear paths to purchase that mobile technologies have enabled. Only then will marketers be able to fully seize this important opportunity to activate shoppers and build their business.

William Rosen is president and chief creative officer of Arc Worldwide North America -- the marketing services arm of Leo Burnett.

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