Sam Curtis

If you have anything at all to do with in-store shopper marketing, mobile is likely near the top of your to-do list and you are surrounded by people evangelising about its impact on shopper behaviour. There is no shortage of publicly available research on how mobile is transforming the way we research and buy products and services. Our clients are being implored to do more in mobile.

A quick search yielded the following:

  • “Today 4 out of 5 consumers use their mobile devices for shopping related purposes”
  • “46% use mobile only in path-to-purchase”
  • “89% of Smartphone owners use their mobile while grocery shopping”

Most of this research is, at best, misleading, and often worse, a distortion of reality.  These facts are used to justify investment in mobile solutions, but just because a shopper has used their mobile while shopping at some point, does not mean they do it all the time.

A deeper dig into shopper behaviour shows that shoppers use their mobile incredibly infrequently, and there are still a number of barriers in the way of mobile helping drive purchase. So, while it holds huge potential to influence shopper behaviour, mobile is currently massively underleveraged.

The reality of mobile at the point of sale
We recently released our latest Mobile Life study of 38,000 mobile users in 43 markets across the globe. Globally, 34% of mobile users claim to have used their mobile in some capacity for a shopping-related activity while in-store, peaking at 87% in South Korea.

On the face of things, this appears very promising for mobile, but it hides a simple truth:

Shoppers make dozens of purchases across many categories every week and mobile plays a role in only a very small fraction of these.

When we ask respondents in Mobile Life whether they have used their mobile for specific category purchases, the numbers drop dramatically.   On a category level:

  • 2% recall having used it when buying OTC medicines
  • 2% when buying pet foods
  • 2% when buying alcohol
  • 1% when buying tobacco

So, when you look at shopper behaviour on an individual trip basis, mobile is almost non-existent.  This is backed up by our own in-store supermarket observations in the US. Of 1,000 aisle shoppers in a snack category; fewer than 5 shoppers interacted with their mobile phone, and those who did were simply answering a phone call.

Think it through. Do we REALLY think shoppers are spending their shopping time glued to their mobile phones? Why is mobile not making the breakthrough at POS many have predicted?

Why is mobile underleveraged?
Mobile should be providing shoppers with innumerable benefits.   While uptake of mobile shopping services is pretty low, when we asked mobile owners what sorts of existing services they were interested in, they mention a range of benefits that mobile could be delivering to shoppers:

  • 16% want to use mobile coupons to save money
  • 16% want apps to check product availability in store
  • 15% want services that can help navigate around the store
  • 13% want an app or website for on-the-go product recommendations and reviews

While the benefits are obvious, and often revolve around saving money, other barriers to mobile services are less apparent. We like to assume the shopper is a rational actor who will always go for the best deal. However, often shoppers’ priority is actually the speed of the purchase. They will thus ignore better offers and choose the product they normally buy and are familiar with, especially in low-involvement categories such as household products and dairy. We shop these categories so often and so habitually, that mobile services needs to do something special to snap us out of habit.

A second challenge is that for many mobile services today, the user experience fails to enhance the shopping experience. QR codes are a good example: it takes several ‘clicks’ to get the information you want. Despite the fact that QR codes have been around for some time, a report last year for eMarketer found that only 9% of consumers in the US has used them in the last year. For most shoppers, despite the benefits, this is simply too much trouble.

For mobile shopping services to be adopted en masse and used frequently, they must improve the shopping experience by:

  • Removing friction: save shoppers time
  • Offering compelling promotions: save shoppers money on what matters to them
  • Enhancing the experience: save shoppers angst

While many existing mobile services target a clearly identifiable need, the user experience does not deliver enough of a benefit in each of these three areas to encourage usage.  For example, many retailers have their own apps that deliver discounts to shoppers, but most have seen very disappointing take-up.  They often deliver offers to shoppers that are not relevant to their needs and are delivered to the phone when they are not in the store and are therefore unconnected to what they are doing at that particular moment. Ultimately, these apps are not intuitive enough to actually save the shopper time when they are shopping.

How to seize mobile’s potential?
Despite all this, many believe that mobile has the potential to deliver great benefits to shoppers. We have seen that shoppers will use their mobile in the store when they see a tangible benefit that matters to them. Shopkick is a great example of an app that delivers offer to shoppers, but does so in an incredibly quick and seamless way. You simply open up the app in store – it will then pick up an in-store signal and deliver offers relevant to that specific store.  Based on observations on shopper behaviour, the following are critical to ensuring increased use of mobile in store:

  1. GET QUICKER, A LOT QUICKER:  Behavioural research shows that when shoppers purchase quicker, they purchase more. Mobile services that can be deployed instantly and save time at shelf will bring benefits to the shopper and can also help fuel category growth.   Mobile services that interrupt shoppers will have the opposite effect.
  2. FOCUS ON THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE:  Often we mistakenly assume a good deal will be enough to encourage use of mobile services, only to be disappointed at take-up levels. Go beyond the deal and use mobile to deliver an improved shopping experience that inspires and saves time and money.
  3.  TAILOR SERVICES TO CATEGORY DYNAMICS:  From category to category, we see substantial differences in shopper behaviour at shelf. The average shopper in baby care spends nearly two minutes at the shelf, but in milk, the average time is 20 seconds. The relative benefit that any given service needs to deliver will differ by category.
  4. TAILOR SERVICES TO CHANNEL: The ‘Shopper Mission’ varies by the type of retailer you are in, and is a critical driver of behaviour in store – i.e. are they stocking up, or just quickly buying one item. In hypermarkets, for example, where we see a lot of stock-up missions, shoppers will see value in apps that provide shopping lists or coupons with promotions on regular purchases. For single-item purchases in a convenience store, being able to quickly find the product they want and mobile wallet services will be more relevant.

A lot of the research on the role of mobile at the point of sale is flawed. Many findings and conclusions are blown out of proportion relative to current use and influence of mobile. The success of mobile depends entirely on how brands, retailers and technology developers address the needs of shoppers in-store (i.e. saving time, saving money and reducing angst).

Below are some of the more promising emergent services we all need to keep an eye on:

  1. Aisle 411 delivers store maps to shoppers to help facilitate quicker purchases while at the same time delivering context-relevant offers.
  2. Augmented reality applications should also come to the fore.  These services work directly from a phone’s camera and overlay the digital world onto the real, helping you to see more information on products or find them in store.  These tend to require very little effort or time to activate.
  3. Services like Scandit that allow mobile self-scanning and self-checkout for the shopper, eliminating the need to scan or pay for products at the end of the trip
  4. A Woolworths app from Australia that allows you to customise your shopping list based on store layout to enable quicker shopping

Unless companies can prove mobile improves the shopping experience, time and resources are better spent focussing on mobile as an advertising tool: getting shoppers into stores and building brand equity to drive consideration before they get to the shelf. The apps shoppers use in store will be those addressing frustrations that are important to them and making their lives easier.

Sam Curtis is Global Director for Retail and Shopper at TNS