Santa’s Newest Little Helpers: Mobile Phones and Tablets

In the last few weeks, major holiday retailers Best Buy and Target have announced online price-matching plans to combat the “showrooming” effect. This is a growing trend where shoppers go into a brick-and-mortar retail store to try out their products then go online to secure the best price thanks to e-commerce competition. This has been a huge wakeup call for big box retailers, that in the past have denied that e-commerce from online competitors like Amazon have hurt sales.

Smartphones and tablets have become our on-the-go (and in-home) tools to enhance our shopping experience for everything from finding store locations, directions, and hours of operation to product research and, increasingly, purchases. And this holiday season we predict the trend will amplify as harried, cost-conscious holiday shoppers utilize smartphones and tablets to find coupons and the latest deals to get a few extra bucks off at the register.

I recently authored a comprehensive white paper that reveals pervasive trends in consumer holiday shopping. The research included reviewing the spending habits of more than 8,500 consumers during the 2011 holiday season and was cross-referenced with data from over 500 digital holiday campaigns that ran during the fourth quarter of last year.

This is the fourth in a six-part series that focuses on the top consumer holiday spending trends and how marketers can capitalize on those trends to increase revenue this holiday season. The full white paper can be found here.

How Important Are Mobile Devices to Holiday Shopping?

Mobile devices could be a marketer’s biggest helper when it comes to driving sales this year. Mobile influences 5.1 percent of all retail store sales in the U.S., which translates roughly to $159 billion in forecasted sales for 2012 (Deloitte Digital The Dawn of Mobile Influence study). And that estimate is likely low considering it looked at smartphones only – and not tablets.

And according to our white paper research, half of consumers surveyed about their use of mobile devices for holiday shopping say they will use their smartphones and two-thirds will use their tablets to make holiday purchase decisions.

As mobile use continues to grow as a convenient shopping tool for consumers, advertising on these devices is also growing, but not nearly as quickly as consumer usage. This is surprising considering no other channel allows marketers to reach consumers in an “in-the-moment” and “in-the-right-place” mindset when it comes to shopping behavior. It’s also important to note that tablet and smartphone behaviors are very different. Although they are used almost interchangeably by many marketers as advertising channels, consumers use smartphones and tablets differently in the shopping process.

Tablets have extraordinary power in the home. Sources like Nielsen and PayPal have noted the existence of “couch commerce” whereby consumers use the tablet from the comfort of their living rooms to both browse e-commerce sites and take action based on advertisements they see on television. As a channel, tablets are more than twice as likely as smartphones to encourage customers to make an online purchase.

Smartphones, while still used as portable media devices in the home, are also used on the way to the store and in-store to get more information, check prices, and occasionally even make the purchase from within the physical retail store. And increasingly we predict consumers will utilize smartphones for real-time price match research in order to get a discount in the store. While smartphones are not heavily used for direct online purchases, they are proving to be an excellent place for compelling ads to aid the user in researching their holiday purchases.

Source:, Oct. 2011 n=8585 Adults 18+

While many marketers may have developed apps for their products, a surprising number of them have not fully optimized their retail websites for both smartphone and tablet access. This is a crucial step in creating a positive – and potentially lucrative – connection with information- and product-seeking holiday shoppers.

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