Google Is Learning How Smartphones Impact In-Store Shopping

Smartphones allow us to answer our own product questions about options, specs and, of course, price while we’re out shopping. And Google is trying to figure out what that means for marketing and purchase decisions.

Google Is Learning How Smartphones Impact In-Store Shopping

Seventy-nine percent of smartphone owners are what Google calls “smartphone shoppers,” meaning that they use their smartphones at least once a month in stores. That’s a lot of people. If there are 130 million smartphone users in the U.S., then about 111 million Americans use their smartphones to prepare for shopping or to look things up while there. It’s not surprising that Google wants to get in all those heads and see what’s going on. There’s money there!


The Google Shopper Marketing Agency Council worked with M/A/R/C Research to assess what people are doing when they use their smartphones to get ready for shopping or while in a store. During Q3 of 2012 they conducted qualitative studies to get a sense of overall trends and then used surveys completed by 1,500 smartphone users to cull data. The report only looked at how smartphones impact in-store purchasing and did not extend to people online shopping on their smartphones.

The most surprising finding was probably that people who consistently use their smartphones as part of their shopping spend 25% more than people who only use their smartphones for shopping occasionally. For example, in the category of health and beauty, sporadic users bought $30 worth of products on average, while more intense users averaged $45 in purchases. In the appliance category, the former group averaged $250 in spending, while the latter spent $350.

Less surprising were the observations that people largely use their smartphones for price comparison, and that they are increasingly answering product-related questions by looking up information on their smartphones instead of asking salespeople. Shoppers were especially likely to “self-help” when buying appliances and electronics even though these products tend to be expensive and potentially confusing. Though Google offered no analysis of the observations in the report, it makes sense that customers might steer clear of salespeople when they are making major purchase decisions and want to reduce pressure or biased advice.

From Google’s perspective, the most important finding was probably that a vast majority of shoppers using smartphones, 82%, said they looked for information through search engines. 62% navigated to store websites and 20% went to deal aggregators. And shoppers preferred mobile sites to apps 65% to 35%.

Google highlights the way these data can inform marketing and strategy decisions, emphasizing a strong online presence for brick and mortar stores, and the importance of considering showrooming in pricing decisions. These conclusions obviously imply using Google services, like Search, Maps, and Google+, as methods of engaging smartphone shoppers, but the data can be valuable no matter what. One concern about the report, though, is that it may not actually be generalizable to all smartphone users, since an increasing number of consumers are relying on online over in-person shopping overall. A customer may be a heavy smartphone user when he or she goes to a store, but may not actually go to stores very often.

[Image: Flickr user lyzadanger]

About the author

Lily Hay Newman is interested in technology and eating lunch so she has hung around at Co.Labs, Gizmodo, IEEE Spectrum, Popular Mechanics, Discover and MetroNY. She writes about web apps and materials science more than sandwiches, but you never know when the tide will turn.