Is mobile enhancing the in-store shopping experience?

Photo: Getty Images/Nikola Stojadinovic
Nov 17, 2021

A new survey finds that in-store shoppers continue to showroom, or use their mobile phones to check competitor prices, but they’re also using their devices for purposes beneficial to the store they’re in.

According to the survey from Airship taken in September, the most popular shopping use of mobile phones inside stores among U.S. consumers were:

  • Using loyalty cards or coupons stored on the phone, 70 percent; 
  • Visiting the retailer’s website, 68 percent; 
  • Comparing prices (e.g., via Google, Amazon), 68 percent; 
  • Using the retailer’s app, 64 percent; 
  • Reading users’ reviews, 63 percent; 
  • Buying online and picking up in store, click & collect or curbside, 61 percent;
  • Contactless payment at point of sales/checkout (Apple Pay, Google Wallet, etc.), 55 percent;
  • Scanning QR codes or smart shelf tags for more information, 53 percent.

The findings come as smartphone use for shopping received a boost during the pandemic.

By 2025, eMarketer now expects m-commerce, or making purchases via mobile devices, will account for 10.4 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. — more than two and a half times the pre-pandemic share. Beyond restrictions on in-store shopping during much of the pandemic, the growth in smartphones as a shopping tool is expected to be supported by new technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and 5G, seamless one-touch checkouts, social commerce, livestreaming and influencer direct selling.

At the store level, pre-pandemic surveys and studies were already showing mobile increasingly influencing the shopper journey.

A 2019 survey from RetailMeNot found 69 percent of U.S. consumers would rather review a product on their phone than speak with an in-store associate and 53 percent preferring to seek out discounts and offers on their phones instead of consulting an associate.

The RetailMeNot survey further found nearly half had an app that collects deals and discounts across retailers on their smartphone and 69 percent indicated that receiving a personalized offer on their phone that they could use in-store would make them more likely to visit a physical retail location.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do mobile phones elevate or distract from the in-store shopping experience? What’s the optimal way for retailers to capitalize on the accessibility and increased use of mobile phones in stores?

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"Phones help consumers. But as retailers we need to ponder what part of their use is important and what part of claimed usage is incidental."

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23 Comments on "Is mobile enhancing the in-store shopping experience?"

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Ken Morris
Retailers need to start with the customer journey and figure out how to enhance that journey leveraging mobile. Mobile has become the extension of the self. Period. The phone is the new associate, the new register, and the new wallet combined, so embrace it. With the company that shall not be called Facebook going all in on augmented reality, you can bet they’ve done their research on monetizing everything that goes into and out of the smartphone or whatever mobile device will be attached to us in the future. Mobile gives associates and customers a huge number of tools to enhance the shopping experience. Given the labor shortage, the phone is a way for an associate or a customer to answer questions with a simple request to Siri without waiting. Where is product X? Do you have this product in the back room? When is the next shipment? Is it in a nearby store? By the way, maybe the best way for retailers to counteract showrooming via mobile is to lower their prices. A very… Read more »
Neil Saunders

Mobile enablement is a great way of enhancing the store experience, especially if it is done in a non-intrusive way for those who wish to shop mobile-free. That said, it is vital to ensure the experience is seamless as when it isn’t it can become a major annoyance. Target, as great as it is, very rarely has shelf-edge prices aligned with prices on its app. Macy’s barcode scanning service in-store frequently throws up random products that are different from those being scanned. Just two examples of unnecessary frustrations.

Dave Bruno

Sure, mobile phones represent a minor threat when they are used for competitive pricing while in the store, but the opportunities inherent in mobile engagement far outweigh the threats. Shoppers will always find competitive data one way or another. The secret, as with all things inside the store, is to enhance the journey with informative and empowering content that compels people to engage in ways that drive conversions. While I have seen lots of press about AR/VR apps designed for use inside the store, I have seen very few that really drive conversions, and hence they tend to be distractions. I have, however, seen many efficient, empowering and helpful mobile tools that make it easy to find the content that drives conversions: availability, reviews, and related items. QR codes strategically around the store to make it easy to access the content are a bonus to shoppers and conversions alike.

David Naumann

Based on the fact that I have used all of the mobile examples listed in the article, I believe mobile phones elevate the in-store shopping experience. One of the greatest potential assets for mobile phones in-store is scan and go. I am surprised more stores haven’t deployed a scan and go mobile option for customers. Big box stores, warehouse clubs and grocery stores are prime for scan and go and I think a lot of customers would welcome it.

Suresh Chaganti

Physical retailers cannot wish away the usage of mobile devices or the fact that customers do comparison shopping.

At the same time, mobile devices with a high degree of location accuracy give retailers data that they never had before. But retailers need to invest in mobile apps to take advantage of that. Retailers can know, with a great degree of precision, which products and aisles are looked at with more interest, or have better chances of converting with in-store only promotions or valid-for-the visit-only promotions. Retailers should offer in-app mobile checkout.

Doug Garnett
10 months 18 days ago

I believe eMarketer’s conclusions are exaggerated. The prediction appears to conjecture growth off a curve which can’t be trusted – growth during the pandemic. We already have evidence that the narrative of “the pandemic has changed everything going forward” is false – most clearly in Amazon’s recent anemic quarter.

Phones help consumers. But as retailers we need to ponder what part of their use is important and what part of claimed usage is incidental.

Melissa Minkow

Consumers already spend so much of their days on their phones – if retailers don’t leverage that knowledge to augment the store experience, they’re missing out. Right now, the primary uses for smartphones while in stores are transactional, but we can expect the phone to also become more of an emotional tool in the future.

Mobile has great potential to elevate the store experience when done right.

Liza Amlani

Mobile phones elevate the shopping experience when retailers encourage customers to use them. Most shopping journeys start on a digital platform and enhance the in-store experience.

Imagine if retailers encouraged more customers to deep dive into product or styling through their mobile, marrying the digital and physical experience. We could learn so much about the customer if the experience was seamless and purposeful.

Bob Amster

For some customers, the use of mobile phones in-store is distracting. For associate it is definitely distracting. However for carrying electronic loyalty cards and for making electronic payments, it is expedient and secure.

Katie Thomas

I love this prompt because it ladders up to broader questions around all of us being on our phones all the time. While I do think that often takes away from the ability to be present in the larger sense, I believe retailers could better utilize mobile to engage with consumers. For instance, if so many consumers are using it for the loyalty program, why not do a quick deal or free gift to help convert the sale? Or remind consumers of something they may need? Or sync up with Instagram in some way to provide inspiration? Tons of opportunity here!

David Spear

I remember a survey taken more than five years ago, which asked consumers — “would you rather lose your wallet or mobile phone?” Answer: approximately 65 percent said they’d rather lose their wallet. And that was five years ago! Mobile has become a central part of our lives. So much so that shoppers are willing participants – they’re opening their phones, wallets and minds to retailers’ digital services. The better and more seamless experiences a retailer can deliver will result in stickier the campaigns, increased loyalty and higher profits, but quality reigns supreme. Relevant and value-oriented content that fills a need during a consumer’s daily life is vital to success.

Bob Amster

But today, five years later, the smartphone can be one’s wallet…

David Spear

Bob – I violently agree with you — which makes losing the mobile phone very problematic. I know there are shutdown procedures for devices, cloud backup, and one can be up and running with a new phone quite quickly, but thinking about the magnitude of data and personal info from a phone in the hands of someone else is frightening.

Georganne Bender

I’d like to know how many people were used in the 2019 RetailMeNot study (the link said the “experience had been removed by the publisher”) that found 69 percent of consumers would rather review a product on their phone than speak with a store associate. That’s a very sad statistic, and an opportunity for retailers to do better.

I would say most consumers have done the things listed in the Airship study, I know I have. Last week my daughter used her phone at Old Navy to BOPIS a pair of jeans that were 40 percent off online and regular price in the store. She handed them to a salesperson who helped her buy them online. On the sales floor. Customers have found ways around the things that drive them crazy.

There are plenty of opportunities to connect with consumers on their phones that go beyond price checking, loyalty programs and QR codes. The trick is getting shoppers to log into the experience.

Dion Kenney
10 months 18 days ago

At this stage in their development and usage, we have a love/hate relationship with our phones. On the one hand, they provide unprecedented content and connectivity, and have unleashed a wave of creativity and ways to leverage that. On the other hand, there is a broad recognition that phone addiction has created a disconnected tech-zombie world of distracted automatons.

We are very early in the application of mobile to create sophisticated experience-enhancing operations. It will need to be more compelling than “faster ordering my drive-thru cheeseburger” (which already takes less than a minute, without mobile tech) before it is meaningfully adding to the consumer experience. That said, I have great faith in the cleverness of retailers to employ technology. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Ryan Mathews

We need to get rid of the hyphenated commerces once and for all. A mobile phone is a near ubiquitous tool and humans are tool using animals. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can begin constructing shopping environments that reflect how people think and buy. It isn’t a question of whether or not phones elevate or distract from what the retailer wants to do, it’s a question of if retailers will adapt to how their customers behave. We need more anthropologists to understand how technology integrates into daily lives and fewer marketers trying to parse the process.

Brandon Rael

The world is mobile, on-the-go and relentlessly connected to social, retail, news channels, and other content 24/7. It is a fundamental missed opportunity if retailers do not recognize and capitalize on customers leveraging their mobile devices while shopping and from their homes.

Any brand engagement only adds to the experience. To ensure that customers have an outstanding in-store experience and mitigate them from showrooming the competition digitally, it will require a connected, customer-first strategy to keep them engaged. There are several levers that retailers could use to drive this engagement, including QR codes that take them to optimized product landing pages, livestreaming, social commerce, cross-brand engagement, and digital marketing.

It all comes down to execution. As long as the connected engagement adds to the experience, it’s a win-win situation for the brands and the customers.

Jeff Sward

Mobile phones turbo charge the Explore + Experiment = Experience dynamic for the customer. Information plus hands-on interaction with product makes for a truly informed customer. The customer now has a level of transparency unheard of in the old days. That level of competition is not going away any time soon.

Gene Detroyer

I haven’t been to China since 2019, but stores were already geared toward supporting the mobile experience. One could scan QR codes and get all the information one would want on products in a store. The use of mobile in stores is astounding and the retailers enabling it are playing to their customers’ desires.

Patrick Jacobs

A retailer we work with made the comment last week that it wasn’t a big deal for the sales associates on the floor to be servicing online shoppers via their mobile devices because ALL of their in-store shoppers are on their phones checking prices/reviews/etc. It is just commonplace now and also more crucial than ever that the retailer’s online and in-store channels are aligned and don’t feel disjointed from one another.

In the ’80s my grandmother used to shop in-store with a Consumer Reports tucked under her arm to glean all the latest reviews – this is just that 2.0.

10 months 18 days ago
Undoubtedly, mobile phones enhance the in-store shopping experience. But the degree of satisfaction, from customer to retailer (and the reverse), goes from just barely to just pleasant enough. The reason why it’s not a total win is doubtless, too. For every person whose smartphone tap works seamlessly at one store’s POS system, they’ll encounter another where it’s haphazard. The fact is, these encounters (transactions mostly) are not equal/universal. Like they were when consumers more often paid with cash. Or credit cards, that used to have to be run through a slide (remember those?) before technology found a way to accept them in a more internalized manner. Even then, as it is now — but to a much greater and faster degree — the “goal posts keep moving.” So, even when/if your store (or online presence vis a vis in-store) is “state of the art” — the “art” is still advancing. And only every new shop opening, on that day and if they have the budget (because its never the same for all), might have current… Read more »
Ananda Chakravarty

Mobile phones can do both — distract or elevate. One thing is for sure, mobile is part of almost every retail experience. Why? Because everyone carries their phone into stores with the expectation of using it — to compare, check prices, research — but also to text their friends, make a call, read the news or play an online game. Retailers need to figure out how to leverage the experience as part of the store journey.

How does a customer ordering BOPIS in the store differ from a customer ordering from home? The options are many and retailers looking to leverage data, knowledge, or engagement need to understand the pros and cons of shopping interference. Most retailers understand that they have an edge when it comes to showrooming — the customer spent the time and money to visit your store. Most shopping for specific products start online, and sometimes in the store. Retailers need to map full customer journeys and establish the right way to engage.

Karen Wong

More than ever, mobile phones are already involved in pre-shopping discovery. It’s only natural that mobile touchpoints don’t end the minute a shopper enters a physical store. The problem I see is in the execution. Orchestration in the back to efficiently manage all of these tools and customer experience in the front to make it as frictionless as possible. It’s easy to offer 10 different solutions standalone but what customer wants to use 10 different apps with different UX?

"Phones help consumers. But as retailers we need to ponder what part of their use is important and what part of claimed usage is incidental."

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