Study: More Local Shoppers Using Mobile Devices for Retail Purchases

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localcorporation_logoAs mobile devices become smarter, consumers are turning to their devices for more than last-minute directions and simple searches. A new study from Local Corporation finds that the the smartphone, once thought as a place where consumers went for quick bits of information, is moving deeper into the decision cycle, playing a larger role in more in depth research, once associated with with tablet behavior.

The study found that the percentage of shoppers who conduct research for goods and services locally on a mobile device nearly doubled in 2013, growing from 34% in 2012 to 73% a year. What’s more, with as many respondents turning the their device for purchases in the next few hours (44%) as those looking to purchase in couple of days or weeks or months ahead, the study suggests that mobile shoppers are turning to their device throughout the entire purchase cycle.

“The smartphone isn’t at the bottom rung anymore. The screens are bigger, the processors are faster, and overall, they’re becoming a lot more versatile,” said Michael Sawtell, chief operating officer at Local Corporation, the publicly-traded local marketing company, which commissioned the report. “The smartphone has moved up the food chain to become much more like a tablet every day.”

Smartphone makers have introduced dramatically faster, and more capable, hardware in recent months, setting the stage for more advanced applications over the next few years. The iPhone 5S, with its A7 chip, is the first 64-bit smartphone, capable of faster processing, with more RAM and more advanced features down the road.

For retailers, who have had an uneasy relationship with mobile devices in the past, a smarter smartphone could turn the tide. Sherry Thomas-Zon, the head of Local Corp’s local inventory product, Krillion, says that the showrooming trend (where consumers research in-store and then buy online) may be a sheep in wolf’s clothing: “The idea that people are going into stores and price-checking just didn’t pan out in this research. There’s been white papers claiming consumers are price-checking in stores, but the research says that it’s is still being done outside, before they come in.

The findings support claims by a resurgent Best Buy that new price matching policies “effectively killed showrooming” as a threat to the electronics retailer. However, it’s unclear whether the more processing power will enable services that will help or hurt brick-and-retailers down the road.

From an industry perspective, new technologies like Apple’s iBeacon service, which allows devices to communicate with others nearby, and strategic investments in omni-channel capabilities, set retailers up for a much more evenhanded battle with e-commerce over the next few years. As consumers turn to their smartphone earlier in the decision cycle, retailers will have an opportunity to capture some of the demand, which has traditionally happened on the web and fully within the domain of the e-commerce sellers, and guide those users step-by-step from the couch to the store.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.