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Let’s Not Dismiss Mobile Or Digital In-Store Just Yet…

For the critics ready to dismiss in-store mobile use and digital store integrations with a few keyboard taps, perhaps given what’s at stake for brands and retailers, we might want to take a closer look at what “covens” like the MRMW are really preaching?

slow down


By Mark Michelson

Without a doubt, the world of marketing research never lends to the transparency of black-and-white absolutes. However, for the critics ready to dismiss in-store mobile use and digital store integrations with a few keyboard taps, perhaps given what’s at stake for brands and retailers, we might want to take a closer look at what “covens” like the MRMW are really preaching?

Yes, it seems like every year has been “the year of mobile”, and now the latest craze is beacons. Then of course, there’s the fact that 94% of all retail sales in the U.S. last year were made in brick-and-mortar stores, not online, which also seems to support little need for much attention on digital or mobile in retail environments (U.S. Census Bureau).

However, I do have a few more pieces of this story to share regarding the growth of mobile and digital. A popular reference for the critics comes from a POPAI study back in 2012, which found that only 8% of grocery shoppers and 19% mass-merchandise shoppers used their smartphones for shopping related activities. This is where we’ll have to begin to disagree. When it comes to grocery and mass-merchandising channels, mobile will tend to have very low usage, since most people shopping these channels are usually doing routine shopping. It’s also important to consider that in 2012, smartphone penetration in the U.S. was only around 50%, which is fairly low compared to the 75% penetration at the end of 2014. That’s pretty strong growth over a 2-year period.

Not to mention, in a “Reality of Retail” report released by InReality a couple weeks ago, it’s fairly clear that mobile usage and engagement while shopping varies greatly by category and demographics (no absolutes). The report also highlights that 75% of consumers are actually using their mobile devices in store, a finding that has been well-supported by research from Forrester, Google, Motorola, and Deloitte, to name a few.

Other highlights of the 2015 Reality of Report included:

  • 46% of shoppers admitted to using their mobile devices for price comparisons in-store
  • 25% of shoppers are actually using their mobile devices to make a purchase in store

Again, these are aggregate highlights, and they vary quite a bit when we look at mobile usage and influence by category. Mobile appears to be used much more in stores for purchases that are not routine, such as appliances, home furnishings and, as expected, consumer electronics.

As head of MMRA and an advocate of MobileMR in my own practice, I admit I may be biased. Maybe I’ve attended and spoken at too many conferences on this topic over the past 5 years. Call me an orthodox coven junkie if you may… However, one thing I think everyone can agree on is that things are changing rapidly, impacting the way consumers shop and calling for brands and retailers to think and act differently.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had to say goodbye to big brand names like RadioShack and Borders, and others like Sears, Office Depot, Target and Barnes and Noble wouldn’t have been forced to close hundreds of stores.

The reality is that growth in technology, especially mobile, is changing the way consumers shop. And, it’s consumers not marketers that are driving this change. Consumers’ expectations are changing as they become more comfortable using new technology, especially when navigating in unfamiliar territories.

That said, however, there’s still a lot of work to be done to understand the effects of new technology on shopping behavior. And, rushes to deploy “digital for digital sake” is not the answer. After all, there may not always be a role for digital in store. Digital should only be used if it will enhance the consumer’s shopping experience and help them buy.

Without question, the rapid adoption of smartphones is not only changing shopper behavior in many categories, but is also providing new ways for researchers to better understand consumers and their behavior in store. I have no doubt that technology will continue to grow and change rapidly, as will consumer adoption and use of new tech while shopping—whether we encourage it or not. But, it’s got to be done correctly.

Would love to hear your thoughts on whether there is still much to do in “digital this” and “mobile that”, or if mobile and digital usage in retail is still much ado about nothing.

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2 responses to “Let’s Not Dismiss Mobile Or Digital In-Store Just Yet…

  1. This is a great article! A year ago, I published an article on Showrooming,, and their impact on brick and mortar stores. We found that it’s not worth trying to fight the consumer on showrooming, but instead embrace it and offer things like free wifi and price match. As much as people love to save a buck by buying it online, nothing will ever be able to beat the immediate gratification that brick and mortar shops offer. Interesting to see how brick and mortar has responded so far and excited to see these trends continue as Amazon pushes same day delivery…

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Mark Michelson

Mark Michelson

Executive Director, Mobile Marketing Research Association MMRA