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Two-thirds of smartphone owners shop from their mobile devices

December 13, 2011

Two-thirds of smartphone owners shop from their mobile devices, study says

By Sandra M. Jones
Chicago Tribune

(istockphoto)

CHICAGO — When many Americans enter a store these days, they have three things: a wallet, a shopping list and a smartphone.

Until recently, smartphones did little more than help shoppers find a store location or take a photo of a product to share with friends. A few sophisticated shoppers showed off their shopping apps for checking inventory or comparing prices, but they were few and far between.

Not this year.

As mobile shopping activity increases, the pressure on physical stores to compete instantaneously with online retailers is growing.

Two-thirds of smartphone owners shop from their mobile devices, according to a report released Wednesday from Chicago-based digital research firm comScore Inc. And one of the most common shopping activities is comparing prices, a feature that threatens to take a cut out of bricks- and-mortar stores’ sales and profits.

“Mobile phones are empowering consumers to find the best prices on the things they want and to compare among merchants,” saidMark Donovan, a senior vice president at comScore. “We’ve been able to do that on a PC for a long time.”

Indeed, 30 percent of smartphone shoppers research product and price details from their cellphones, and 26 percent scan bar codes to compare prices among various retailers, comScore said. That figure is expected to grow as more shoppers rely on the smartphones as their personal shopping concierge.

The rapid pace at which consumers are latching onto price-comparison apps has caught most retailers off-guard. Only one-quarter of major retail chains offer their own mobile apps, and just over one-third of retail chains have a mobile website, according to online marketing firm Acquity Group.

While retailers’ mobile acumen has improved from last year — when 12 percent had a mobile website and 7 percent offered apps — they still aren’t moving fast enough, said futurist Daniel Burrus, chief executive of Milwaukee-based Burrus Research and author of Flash Foresight.

Smartphones, or cellphones that access the Internet, make up 75 percent of all phones sold globally, Burrus said. And that number will approach 100 percent within the next two years, he predicted.

“For the first time in history, we have our primary computer with us at all times,” Burrus said. “Our smartphone is becoming our primary computer. Before that it was our laptop, before that it was our desktop, and before that it was the mainframe.

“This big shift is happening, and retailers need to wake up to it. It isn’t a fad.”

Amazon.comInc. raised the ante last week when, for the first time, the world’s biggest online retailer said it would give shoppers a 5 percent discount, up to $5, if they used Amazon’s Price Check app from a physical store. The deal was good only on Saturday and could be used on up to three qualifying items.

The Amazon Price Check promotion is just one more thorn in the side of brick-and-mortar retailers, who complain that Amazon already has an unfair price advantage because the online retailer isn’t required to charge sales tax.

Amazon isn’t the only company offering a price-comparison app. Apps such as eBay’s RedLaser, ShopSavvy and Google Shopper allow consumers to find price information online while shopping in physical stores. But Amazon’s promotion is likely to expose more smartphone users to the process.

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