Uh oh. It’s already happening. The fall leaves are yet to turn orange and yellow, but the red and green Christmas decorations are already making their way to stores. The holiday shopping season has begun and it’s seeming to get earlier and earlier each year. But it isn’t just brick-and-mortar retailers that are getting into the festive spirit. Customers, too, are already thinking about what they’re going to buy their loved ones and they’re turning to online retail stores to do so.
According to a study from Google, 28 percent of consumers in the U.S. will search online for holiday gifts before Halloween. Another 63 percent will research online before Thanksgiving, while 60 percent will purchase their items that weekend. And while there may be a slight discrepancy between who looks at what and when, one thing they will all have in common is the device they use to do these searches on: mobile.
Mobile has become the ultimate shopping assistant, says Vineet Buch, director of product management at Google Shopping. It is no coincidence that between 2010 to 2013 in-store visits have dropped by 55 percent, yet retail store sales have increased by 13 percent. Meanwhile, 46 percent of shoppers who use their phone in a store still end up making a purchase. According to Buch, it used to be that shoppers came to the store with little knowledge and the sales associate educated them on products. Nowadays, shoppers are coming into stores with rich detailed information, and are turning to their phones as their own personal shoppers. One in three consumers uses their smartphone to find information instead of asking store employees.
“Visits are precious but if you haven’t prepped consumers before they have entered the store and made sure you have the right mobile experience when they are in-store, you have lost a sale,” Buch notes.
Part of that online preparation is through the use of product listings ads (PLAs) – visual search ads that appear at the top of Google search pages. Google introduced these in late 2012 and they have been a huge hit for the company ever since, with more and more retailers opting to advertise in this way.
With the increasing dependence on mobile as a “personal assistant,” Google is revamping some of these features to make it easier for consumers to do research in the buying process. When a consumer now shops for an item such as “tote bag,” he/she will be taken to a digital showroom where they can browse through the different departments, brands, models, prices, and reviews. Shoppers can also benefit from location data whereby they can find out which nearby stores carry the item they are looking for, and how far away these items are from their location.
“The digital and physical world must be connected. Consumers need instant gratification and mobile allows them to have it, all in one place. It has become a true shopping companion,” says Buch.
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