The Big Mobile Lie: It's Not Really Driving Purchase

People Do Use Mobile Devices When Shopping, but Not Most of the Time

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If you have anything at all to do with in-store shopper marketing, mobile is likely near the top of your to-do list, and you are surrounded by people evangelizing about its huge impact on shopper behavior.

Indeed, a quick search of publicly available research turns up the following claims: Four out of five consumers use mobile devices for shopping-related purposes; 46% have used mobile only in path-to-purchase; 89% of smartphone owners use their mobile while grocery shopping.

Unfortunately, most of this research is misleading, and often worse, a distortion of reality. Just because a shopper has used a mobile device while shopping at some point, does not mean she or he does it regularly. A deeper dig shows that shoppers use their mobile infrequently. And while mobile holds great potential to help drive purchase, a number of significant hurdles remain.

Our latest Mobile Life study of 38,000 mobile users in 43 markets across the globe, based on interviews between November and February, shows that globally, 34% of mobile users claim to have used their mobile in some capacity for a shopping-related activity while in-store. The figure peaks in South Korea, at 87% of mobile users.

But when we ask respondents whether they have used their mobile for specific category purchases, the numbers drop dramatically. On a category level: 2% recall having used it when buying OTC medicines; 2% when buying pet food; 2% when buying alcohol; 1% when buying tobacco.

On any given trip to the store, mobile is almost non-existent. Our in-store supermarket observations in the United States back this up. Of 1,000 aisle shoppers in a snack category, fewer than five shoppers interacted with their mobile device, and those who did were simply answering a phone call.

Mobile should be providing shoppers with innumerable benefits. When we asked mobile owners what services they wanted from mobile, they mentioned a range of benefits: 16% want to use mobile coupons to save money; 16% want apps to check product availability in store; 15% want services that can help navigate around the store; 13% want an app or website for on-the-go product recommendations and reviews.

But it's not clear that even if mobile offered these, they would be used with any frequency. Often shoppers' priority is the speed of the purchase, as opposed to the best deal. They will ignore better offers and choose the product they normally buy and are familiar with, especially in low-involvement categories, such as household products and dairy. We shop these categories so often and so habitually, that mobile services need to do something extra special to snap us out of habit.

Another challenge facing mobile is that often its services are too much trouble for a user to access. QR codes are a good example: it takes several clicks to get the information you want. Though QR codes have been around for some time, a report last year for eMarketer found that only 9% of consumers in the United States had used them in the preceding year.

We can identify three areas in which mobile needs to excel for its shopping services to be adopted en masse and used frequentlly: mobile must save shoppers time, money and angst.

While many mobile services target a clear need in these areas, the user experience often fails to deliver enough of a benefit. For example, many retailers have apps that deliver discounts to shoppers, but they often send offers that are not relevant to the shopper's needs and are delivered to the phone when the customer is not in the store. These apps need to become more intuitive.

Augmented-reality applications should also come to the fore. These services work directly from a phone's camera and overlay the digital world onto the real, helping you to see more information on products or find them in store. These apps require little effort or time to activate.

We know that shoppers will use their mobile in the store when they see a tangible benefit that matters to them. Shopkick is a great example of an app that delivers offers in a quick and seamless way. You open up the app in store, and it then picks up an in-store signal and delivers offers relevant to that store. Aisle 411 delivers store maps to shoppers to facilitate quicker purchases, while delivering context-relevant offers.

Based on our behavioral research on shopper behavior, the following are critical to ensuring increased use of mobile in store:

Get quicker. Mobile services that can be deployed instantly and save time at shelf will bring benefits to the shopper and can also help fuel category growth. Mobile services that interrupt shoppers will have the opposite effect. A good example is Scandit, which allows mobile self-scanning and self-checkout for the shopper, eliminating the need to scan or pay for products at the end of the trip.

Focus on the shopping experience. Go beyond the deal and use mobile to deliver an improved shopping experience that inspires and saves time and money. A Woolworth's app from Australia, for example, allows you to customize your shopping list based on store layout to enable quicker shopping.

Tailor services to category dynamics. The average shopper in baby care spends nearly two minutes at the shelf, but in milk, the average time is 20 seconds. The relative benefit that any given service needs to deliver will differ by category.

Tailor services to channel. The shopper's mission varies by the type of retailer you are in, and is a critical driver of behaviour in store: are they stocking up, or just quickly buying one item? In hypermarkets, for example, where we see a lot of stock-up missions, shoppers will see value in apps that provide shopping lists or coupons with promotions on regular purchases. For single-item purchases in a convenience store, being able to quickly find the product they want and mobile wallet services will be more relevant.

Sam Curtis is global director for retail and shopper at TNS.
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