65 percent of US smartphone shoppers prefer to use mobile Web to mobile apps for shopping. Is that shocking? It shouldnt be.

A recent survey by Google of 1,500 smartphone shoppers (i.e. smartphone users who used their devices for shopping purposes) in the US, found the majority preferred to use mobile Web above mobile apps when researching products and prices in-store.

Shoppers have always shopped around for the best deal and any retailer that thinks they won’t use their mobile device to do that – whether they are in-store or not – is living in cloud cuckoo land. No matter how good your physical store, consumers can leave and check out the competition. No matter how good your app, consumers can leave and check out the competition.

According to Google, half of smartphone shoppers use their mobile (for shopping) for as much as 15 minutes per store visit. 90 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phone for pre-shopping activities, including finding location/directions (58 percent); finding opening hours (57 percent); making price comparisons (44 percent); and finding promotional offers (44 percent). Then they continue to use their mobile phones in-store, where price comparison (53 percent) becomes the main pursuit, particularly for appliances (74 percent) and electronics (70 percent). 1-in-3 people say they will use their mobile phone in-store to find information rather than ask an employee.

Mobile Web v mobile app

What is more interesting, perhaps, is how these smartphone shoppers perform these tasks i.e. via mobile Web or mobile app. Google’s survey confirms what should be obvious, that consumers turn to mobile Web to do their retail research – whether researching products; finding where products are sold; making price comparisons or finding promotional offers – rather than mobile apps. The results are below, but first let us explain why the results are obvious and what the implications are for retailers.

Some shoppers might use native apps to conduct their retail research, but most won’t. After all, researching products, prices and availability by opening one brand’s or retailer’s app after another is going to be pretty tedious. (As well as putting unnecessary strain on the device’s battery life). It’s so much easier to fire up a mobile Web browser, do a quick search and visit the most relevant retailer, brand or review sites.

What about a price-comparison app or a search app? Well, apart from the fact that these are often little more than a native front-end to a Web-based application (Oh come on, no one really thinks all that data magically resides on their tiny handset do they?), every recommendation for product, price, retailer leads to a click through to a retailer’s/brand’s site.

The same is true for mobile advertising. When a visitor clicks on a must-buy-it-now banner ad from within a third-party app, they end up on the advertiser’s mobile Web site, not in their mobile app.

Perhaps one day all the random native apps people have on their smartphones might become interoperable. So when a consumer clicks on a deal/link in their deals/price-comparison app, it automatically fires up the app of an affiliate brand or retailer app if also present on your handset. But for the foreseeable future it will be easier for apps to refer consumers straight to the affiliate’s Website.

Sooner or later retail research always ends up back on the Web.

The implications for retailers are clear:

Note that in Google’s research findings (following) over 50 percent of smartphone shoppers end up on a store Website – make sure it is your site. Make sure that when they arrive on your site they are not disappointed and leave.

1) Your site needs to perform well in the consumer’s inevitable mobile search for information, prices et al. If your site is failing on mobile SEO (search engine optimization), you may need to pay for mobile search advertising (you can almost see Google et al rubbing their hands together with glee).
2) Your site needs to be optimized for the consumer’s mobile device, when the visitor clicks through from the search engine (or the deals, comparison shopping or reviews site/app). The site needs to detect the device type and send HTML pages that take account of the device’s physical restrictions, e.g. size of screen, lack of Flash, and capabilities, as well as not crippling the mobile connection with huge images.
3) Your site needs to be optimized for the needs of the mobile retail visitor. Where the above point is concerned with technical issues, this one focuses on tailoring the site to ensure the mobile visitor becomes a customer. This starts with the basics – helping the mobile visitor find the store, opening hours, contact details with click-to-call – and continues through catalogue, product information, offers, services and mobile commerce (of course). The more you can tailor the site to the mobile visitor and personalize it to each category of visitor, the higher the likelihood of conversion.
4) Pre-empt the mobile search.
a) By using QR (quick response) codes or NFI (near-field communication) – if the smartphone supports it – in store, you can hyperlink the visitor to exactly the right point of your mobile site, where the relevant information is found (and hit them with that can’t-possibly-refuse offer). Remember your advantage over the competition is you know why they are here as soon as they click the QR code.
b) If you know consumers are likely to check their cell phones for better prices, offer to match any better offer they can find on the Web.

Survey results:

Google’s research (based on responses from 1507 smartphone owners in the US in Q4 2012) underscores the pivotal role mobile Web plays in the route to purchase.

Q. Which of the following resources did you use to research products in the physical store?
Search engine: 82 percent.
Store Websites: 62 percent.
Brand Websites: 50 percent.
Store apps: 21 percent.
Deal Websites: 20 percent.

Q. Which of the following resources did you use in-store to find where products are sold?
Search engine: 73 percent.
Store Websites: 67 percent.
Brand Websites: 39 percent.
Store apps: 24 percent.
Brand apps: 17 percent.

Q. Which of the following resources did you use in-store to make price comparisons?
Search engine: 72 percent.
Store Websites: 50 percent.
Brand Websites: 30 percent.
Comparison sites: 25 percent.
Scanner apps: 21 percent.

Q. Which of the following resources did you use in-store to find promotional offers?
Search engine: 63 percent.
Store Websites: 59 percent.
Brand Websites: 38 percent.
Deal Websites: 36 percent.
Promotional notification from email or text: 35 percent.

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