BrainTrust Query: So What’s With Smartphones?

Discussion
Feb 01, 2012

Those of us who are frequent contributors/readers of RetailWire are constantly being pointed to social media, smartphones, QR codes and any of a number of other new technologies as both the wave of the future and the demise of retail as we know it. As a frequent grocery shopper, I wonder what all the excitement is about. The last few times I’ve gone to my Publix or Kroger, I haven’t seen anyone using smartphones or tablets for their shopping and I’m keeping an eye out.

Now you might attribute that to my being in Atlanta, where we like to think the pace of life is a bit slower. But we are pretty far along the technology adaptation curve here — it’s the Georgia Tech influence and the fact that I don’t believe we have any native Atlantans where I live. Or it might be a disconnect with the survey takers releasing reports about mobile shopping — many have a vested interest in showing that these new tools are critical to retailing’s future.

Consider first that about a third of Americans 13 and older own a smartphone — a large percentage, if not overwhelming (although it is likely to grow, at least in the near future).

An interesting article published by Mobile Commerce Daily cited a few relevant "facts":

  • PayPal predicted last fall that 67 percent of consumers would make a holiday purchase via mobile;
  • InMobi reported that almost 60 million consumers would shop with their mobile phones on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

In contrast, IBM reported that:

  • 6.6 percent of sales on Black Friday were made via mobile phone;
  • About one percent of sales came via referral from Facebook.

These figures are clearly contradictory and paint a very different picture of mobile usage. It’s not clear that mobile or social media is being used much. Next, consider another recent study from students at LIM College in New York, "Shopping Trends Among 18-25 Year Olds":

  • 68 percent of 18-25 year-olds would much rather shop in stores than use digital technology;
  • 66 percent use the web for gathering information;
  • Only 23 percent shop from a tablet or smartphone;
  • 88 percent do not want to shop through Facebook or Twitter.

As a CPG researcher, two points stand out to me. First, we need to realize that the questions generating these figures are based on "shopping," presumably including much more than grocery shopping, which I’m betting represents the bulk of the transactions in the universe of "shopping" occasions.

Second, hard shopping data and survey results seem to be in conflict with survey results dramatically overestimating the use of phones for shopping.

Discussion Questions: Are we over-thinking the use of mobile technology for grocery shopping and assuming it is going to be a much bigger opportunity than it will really be? Is the shopping market that is likely to be affected by social media and smartphone usage limited to durables (fashion, media, appliances, etc.), or is grocery also going to need to pick up the pace?

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25 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: So What’s With Smartphones?"

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Max Goldberg
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Whether we are over-thinking or not, retailers fail to adopt it at their own peril. Given that retailers will never be able to lead, let alone keep up, with consumer adoption of devices, software, and applications, it’s important that retailers experiment with and hone their digital skills. What is already happening in consumer electronics and fashion will eventually come to grocery. Grocers need to be prepared.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
5 years 10 months ago
Mobile is clearly going to be a channel for retailers, including grocery and National CPG brands, to connect with their customers. The survey data in this article appears to be greatly influenced by the group running the survey. A mobile association reporting on the use of mobile shopping? Those numbers are certainly ones they aspire to reach. They are, however, correct that mobile will be a channel. How fast it grows is tough to predict. I still enjoy shopping in a store, although I will admit my purchases through my kindle have grown since Christmas. Does mobile phone shopping get… Read more »
Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
5 years 10 months ago

Mobile will become the primary means of consumer online access within 5-10 years. The over thinking is that retailers approach mobile commerce as a “gee whiz” phenomenon, when actually it will be an ordinary part of daily life.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
5 years 10 months ago
Market research is notoriously influenced by the agenda of the sponsor. Okay, I get that. Let’s focus on the one third of the adults that currently own a smart phone. Surely, it will be one half before long, then two thirds. Each one of these smartphone users is currently learning how to exploit the phone in their normal day to day activities: meeting friends, staying in touch, going from place to place, paying bills, etc. Certainly shopping is on the list of day to day activities. When I shop, even for groceries, I want to know where the item is… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 10 months ago
Viva la Difference! Fashion garments and food items come from slightly different planets. When you know what a “cool” purse — or appliance — looks like, or how your peer group feels about it, mobile technology shortens the decision process. Viva smart phone usage! Food, since it is more perishable, can frequently create a need for more personal involvement. Many people, despite their grumblings, like to browse among the wide and unique assortments of food and groceries for themselves, check out the freshness by their own personal standards, and touch the products that they are going to eat. In addition,… Read more »
Mark Heckman
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
Having conducted consumer research for the past 25 years among supermarket shoppers, I can tell you that most grocery shoppers are very bad at predicting their own behavior. As just one example, for years, shoppers were telling us how incredibly important health and nutrition was in their grocery shopping mentality, during which time carbonated beverages and salty snacks flourished and healthy, less tasty items struggled and failed. It has only been recently with the advent of shelf tag programs and improved product selection that we have seen significant traction at the checkout in the way of increased healthy food sales.… Read more »
David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
5 years 10 months ago
Viewing the weekly circular on your mobile phone will be somewhat of a common behavior — in 3 years, not now. Those who embrace the media channel will push forward to provide this interface. At the same time, newspaper circulation continues to go down with no end in sight beyond shutting doors (sad). So yes, mobile technology will be supportive of the grocery shopping experience, but it is much more relevant in hard goods (appliances and electronics) and soft goods (apparel, shoes, etc.). The key to conversion and how to bridge the gap in the stats shared is real-time processing… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
Yes, we are over thinking the use of mobile technology. We try to pigeon hole every technology that comes down the road and don’t look at behavior. One of Steve Jobs’ talents was that he didn’t think about the devices first, he thought about behavior. The challenge that all retailers face (grocery and otherwise) is not that people will come to the store and use their smartphones, but that the people will come to the store at all. Today’s statistics are irrelevant. People will adapt to the tools that are provided. Those quizzed can’t imagine what they would do in… Read more »
Ed Dunn
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

As a general rule, humans still have a primal instinct to “hunt and gather” food and clothing. These items will be hard to fully e-commerce-enable or enhance as no smartphone can tell us if a fruit is still ripe or a garment fits snugly.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Okay, I’ll be the contrarian. I don’t want to interact with anything in the grocery store. I want to get in, find what I want at a reasonable price (that’s getting harder) and get out. I’m just not sure that my smartphone is going to help me with that….

Dan Frechtling
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
There’s an adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, that increasing consumption of a consumer technology means increasing commerce. But the tide never rises as quickly as pundits predict. Game console penetration did not cause gaming to become a large advertising medium, social shopping lags social media use, and even the internet was much more about content before it became commerce. Mobile shopping is growing faster than online, but it was only $6 billion, or just 2 percent of overall e-commerce sales last year, according to Forrester. It is an infinitesimal proportion of overall commerce. Mobile commerce is thriving… Read more »
Ana Sandoval
Guest
Ana Sandoval
5 years 10 months ago
At PRS, we recently conducted research into smartphone usage and learned that although most smartphone shopping activity is done within the technology, clothing and grocery category, there are several categories where mobile shopping is gaining traction such as: Cosmetics (35%)Office supplies (27%)Over-the-Counter Medication (26%)On-the-go-coffee (26%)Home Decor Items (26%)Cleaning Products (22%)Pet Supplies (22%) Marketers would do well to ensure that they understand the role of smartphones and digital content — relative to packaging and POS materials — in the shopping process within their categories. They need to ensure that all their communications are complementing each other and working together. Retailers should… Read more »
Dan Raftery
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
I haven’t seen any recent data on this, but last time I looked, grocery shopping is considered “a chore” by most folks. Get in and get out is what they want — and not just the males. Plus, the grocery shopping trip is much more complex than a durables trip — buying a flat screen TV, for example. By that I mean a basket full of items versus one item. Plus plus, brand and store familiarity are efficiency tools used by grocery shoppers. A better application of m-commerce is when the shopper needs to learn more about the item, including… Read more »
Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
5 years 10 months ago
I love the question because grocery shopping is different; those of us who do it regularly know we want to get in, get out, and move on with our lives. As an industry we have a tendency to take the technology to literally when it’s applied to grocery (here’s a cool app to build a shopping list — again) instead of viewing it through the shopper’s lens. What the shopper may want to accomplish on a smartphone or an iPad may or may not take place in a store or on a grocery website. The ZMOT work we did with… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

The operative word is “shopping” (not to be confused with purchasing). To me, shopping includes navigating the store environment, accessing ratings, reviews, product specs, and coupons, checking online or in-store availability, etc. Mobile would seem to play a growing role in the shopping realm across multiple categories. Mobile transactions are another thing. That’s where I think grocery stats would drop off considerably in relation to other categories.

Mark Burr
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
Over thinking? Maybe. Maybe we’re over thinking the wrong things. The two points that stick out are: 68 percent of 18-25 year olds would much rather shop in stores than use digital technology; and 66 percent use the web for gathering information. Then take note of Cathy Hotka’s point; I don’t think she’s alone in her thinking. Consider that we might want digital or mobile technology to actually enhance that type of visit. First, a quick shopping list is made. Connect that upon arrival to the store to a store map on the mobile device, with the items on the… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
There was a great webinar yesterday given by Doug Stephens for Junction Solutions addressing the future of retail. His main point was that technology is not the issue. The primary issue is the consumer behavior change created by the technology and, in this vein, argued that entering a store is the beginning of the shopping experience and not the end (or purchase point) of the shopping experience for today’s consumers. What is the role of retail given the new shopping behavior engaged in by people who use today’s and tomorrow’s technology? This is an interesting question for each retailer to… Read more »
Martin Mehalchin
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
The simple answer is that it’s still early days and a lot of the truly game changing mobile technologies like NFC payments and Augmented Reality have not reached wide adoption yet. Also, early executions of some of the more widespread techniques, like QR campaigns, are often poorly thought out. A friend here in Seattle runs a “Mobile Fail Blog” and is never lacking for story ideas. As the technology continues to mature, adoption spreads, and execution improves, it is very easy to envision the use scenarios that would truly enhance the shopping experience for end consumers. If I’m running a… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
I’m somewhere between 6.6 and 67% in agreement with Stephen (I’m hoping the MCD article had a typo and omitted a decimal); no, make that 99% in agreement. What, exactly, is supposed to happen? Is Tony (or some other grocer) going to write on RW next year “everyone has a smartphone now so I’ve stopped carrying frozen foods”? Or maybe, “we don’t accept paper coupons anymore, it’s all done electronically….” So? I’m not saying there won’t be any affect — I’m sure even some mundane event like the introduction of vinyl flooring presented an “opportunity.” I’m just hard pressed to… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
5 years 10 months ago
Yes, we are definitely over-thinking this! This is the latest thing being used to separate retailers from their hard earned profits. If you have a smartphone, you quickly learn to turn off or block information or your life becomes punctuated by a series of bells and whistles. Even teenagers learn to turn the electronic spam off. Retailers need to concentrate on the things that really matter, like short checkout lines, keeping product in stock, keeping the store clean, keeping nice produce, meat and fish sections, offering great pricing and being involved with the community. I have yet to see an… Read more »
Tony Orlando
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
As a grocer myself, I can tell you for those who just want to get in and get out of the supermarket, that’s fine. HOWEVER, it is the extras consumers buy inside the store, that they hadn’t planned to do, which keeps my store open. Grocery shopping is not so simple, and if it was, than Walmart would own the world. Consumers want and crave a unique and delicious food or side dish to feed their family and friends. This is what keeps all of us going, by creating the smells and tastes of great food, which makes the customer… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

I do believe mobile adoption is inevitable, however, it will be adopted by age groups and regions (Japan/South Korea vs. US, etc.) at differing rates. Cathy Hotka said it very well in her comments. However, my wife and I were in the supermarket and she saw that an item in the cooking spice section was out of stock, so she looked the spice up on Wikipedia and found a similar spice for her recipe. Cool! The retailer got the sale and my wife was able to make dinner! Yay!

Verlin Youd
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
Credit is due to Gartner here, as there is a reason they coined the term “Hype Cycle” long ago — it applies to not only technology adoption generally, but is very applicable to specific industry market segments, including retail. There is no question that mobile is growing and will in time fundamentally reshape the overall omni-channel shopping experience, across all segments. That reshaping will differ dramatically segment by segment. For example, I imagine that a majority of my over the counter pharmaceutical purchases will happen in-store as for me they are usually meant to address an immediate and urgent personal… Read more »
Christopher Krywulak
Guest
Christopher Krywulak
5 years 10 months ago

By and large, I believe most customers use their smartphones and social media to research larger purchases rather than small, everyday ones. That is not to say the grocery industry does not have a stake in mobile and social commerce. A good example is the Tesco/Home Sense QR code application in South Korea. If they make it convenient (save them time) for shoppers to buy their groceries (as well as saving them money wherever possible), grocers have a mobile/social opportunity.

Jason Goldberg
Guest
5 years 10 months ago
I think it’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t just one shopper persona using Grocery Stores, and there isn’t just one type of mission for each persona. Any visit to a grocery store will find shoppers with a prepared list next to shoppers looking for inspiration for dinner, people with a weeks worth of groceries next to those just grabbing milk, coupon users and non-coupon users, etc. So it’s not a matter of if Mobile is going to be used by all for all missions. It’s a matter of whether some shopper segments are going to change their… Read more »
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