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Half of US consumers shop with mobile devices: study

April 20, 2011

Arc Worldwide examines mobile shopping trends

Fifty percent of consumers in the United States use a mobile device to navigate their hectic shopping experience, according to a study by Leo Burnett’s marketing services arm Arc Worldwide.

Mobile shopping has become a part of the daily routine for American consumers, who use their mobile devices for everything from comparing the prices of televisions to ordering a morning latte and reading restaurant reviews. This trend is quickly and decisively changing the traditional shopping process and issuing an ultimatum to companies: deliver valuable mobile experiences or risk losing customers.

“Smartphones and tablets are empowering consumers to browse, research and buy without ever stepping a foot in the store,” said William Rosen, president and chief creative officer of Arc Worldwide, Chicago. “Or while in store, these powerful tools might help them to pick the optimal product or ensure they are getting a fair price.

“Our research showed that shoppers visited both retail and brand/manufacturer mobile Web sites and apps,” he said. “By not being in the conversation, you may miss an opportunity to provide relevant information that leads to purchase.”

In December, Leo Burnett and Arc Worldwide conducted a nationwide quantitative survey interviewing 1,800 U.S. mobile phone owners. In addition, a smaller qualitative research study was fielded with 30 mobile shoppers.

Leo Burnett’s clients include Coca-Cola Co., Kellogg, McDonald’s, Hallmark, P&G, Allstate and Nintendo.

Five main takeaways of the survey
Bar code scanning is one of the top trends in mobile shopping, with bar code scanning apps such as RedLaser that help shoppers find better prices and product ratings and reviews.

Additionally, QR codes are linking magazine browsers and shoppers at the point of sale to relevant information such as how-to videos, consumer reviews and samples.

Coupons and deals mark another top trend, with apps such as Grocery IQ, Kraft Foods and Cellfire that link CPG coupons to shoppers’ grocery store value card.

Location-based deal apps such as foursquare and Facebook Places help on-the-go shoppers to find offers and show their loyalty for local venues.

And for the less savvy audience, many local restaurants offer text messages with coupons.

Mr. Rosen said that mobile shopping has created multiple paths to purchase and has completely transformed the way people research and purchase products.

Companies looking to crack the mobile code must understand shoppers’ unique demands by category and shopper type, according to Mr. Rosen.

Arc Worldwide identified five key findings for companies to keep in mind when implementing mobile shopping strategies:

1. Mobile shopping is a love/hate relationship.

Mobile shoppers are currently split into two groups – heavy and light shoppers, per Arc Worldwide.
Heavy users always have their mobile devices within reach and love surfing the mobile Web and using new apps.

Light users are the opposite—they view their mobile as an inferior on-the-go version of their computer, so they tend to do only basic mobile shopping activities such as looking up store hours and locations.

While the majority of recent retail and brand mobile efforts have focused on the needs of heavy mobile shoppers, the study found that this group is actually about 11 percent of mobile phone owners.

The needs of light mobile shoppers are not being met, according to Arc Worldwide. With these very different types of mobile shoppers, brands should build both a mobile Web site and apps.

Light shoppers are the future of mobile shopping, according to Arc Worldwide. With time, these consumers will become more familiar with their mobile device and will eventually evolve into heavy mobile shoppers.

Arc Worldwide predicts that when this evolution takes place, the mobile shopping population will increase by 50 percent.

Thus, the agency recommends engaging lights earlier, with simple solutions, will lead to customer loyalty in the future.

2. Mobile devices can help consumers order a latte or buy a car.

Consumers once pursued shopping for big-ticket items with tireless research and planning, but it is now being treated casually as people rely on their mobile devices to help them do the work, according to Arc Worldwide.

In contrast, simple tasks such as buying coffee now get careful consideration due to sophisticated mobile application that enable customized interactions between brands and consumers.

Retailers must be prepared to satisfy shoppers by offering mobile shopping experiences that touch both ends of the spectrum—big-ticket and smaller daily purchases.

3. Shopping is moving from malls to mobile devices.

U.S. consumers want a spontaneous and fluid mobile shopping experience, according to Arc Worldwide. They want to shop while waiting to pick the kids after school or sitting in the doctor’s office.

From Groupon to local department store circulars and eBay, savvy merchants are reaching out to consumers via mobile.

Arc Worldwide recommends that to meet consumers’ needs, marketers need to create relevant mobile interactions that are in tune with their target audience’s daily routines.

4. Instant gratification is king.

Mobile shoppers can use their devices to search for new clothes, order food and buy music with minimal friction.

To succeed in this fast-paced landscape, Arc Worldwide advises that companies must provide mobile Web sites and apps add value.

Brands and retailers should seek out interactions with all types of mobile shoppers by activating via both on-the-go and in-store mobile campaigns.

5. Manufacturers and retailers should team up.

Arc Worldwide recommends that manufacturers and retailers should work together to create a one-stop-shop for mobile shoppers to collect discounts, view product specifications and check inventory status.

The goal should be to provide a comprehensive mobile experience that pulls shoppers through the purchase funnel and encourages repeating a similar transaction process in the future.

“The two most important pieces of advice are to understand that the traditional idea of the path to purchase is dead, as there are now multiple, mobile-enabled paths to purchase, and as a result, category shopping norms have to be re-examined, as, for example, considered purchases become more casual and casual purchases more considered,” said Molly Garris, digital strategist at Arc Worldwide.

“The mobile-enabled multiplying of the path to purchase is going to cause a fundamental rethinking of all marketing efforts among sophisticated retail marketers,” she said. “The most effective retail activation—that is, efforts that move shoppers closer to a transaction—is built upon solid insights into how real people shop and ultimately buy, and the barriers and opportunities along the way.”

There are multiple shopper segments, each with a unique approach to shopping that varies based on the category of the product being shopped.

Mobile technology enables each of these shoppers to take their own, unique path to purchase, requiring more sophisticated and segmented strategies.

There is no more silver bullet, so the need for shopper insight is greater than ever.

Retailers need to ask themselves what the user experience is if people start their shopping journey on the mobile site looking for broad information or visit the mobile site mid-journey to see if the retailer carries a specific brand.

Or, what if they have made their product selection and are just looking to score a deal?

Each of these shoppers is looking for something different, but all are important and need to come away with a positive experience.

“Retailers need to make information available to shoppers in meaningful ways and in important places,” Ms. Garris said. “Don’t assume you know when your shoppers will interact with your mobile sites and apps.

“In the near term, make sure you are creating relevant mobile interactions that can happen early, mid, late or repeatedly in the process,” she said. “In the long term, make sure you have a marketing partner that brings you real insight into how your prime prospects shop.”

Ms. Garris also advises brands and retailers to re-examine conventional wisdom on category shopping norms.
Categories that were shopped with great consideration may now see a more casual approach.

For instance, when shopping for appliances, people traditionally did their homework to shortlist, and walked into the retail environment armed with information and ready. Now people can stop in on a whim, and do their research in the aisle.

However, the opposite is also happening, per Arc Worldwide.

“Categories that may have gotten minimal consideration before now receive more attention,” Ms. Garris said. “Take something as simple as getting coffee.

“It’s no longer just a matter of walking into a coffee shop,” she said. “At Starbucks, people can look up locations, load up their reward card, explore nutritional information and even pay in select stores.

“So this formerly casual purchase offers many more opportunities for engagement and activation.”

Final Take
Kat Bear, assistant account executive at Leo Burnett

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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