In addition to cold weather and higher gas bills, November brings us full swing into the holiday shopping season. Black Friday is the big day, of course, but other shopping holidays have popped up on the calendar, especially for online shopping. Even beyond that, retailers are making efforts to entice consumers to buy in other ways—particularly through their smartphones.
Got a smartphone? Not everybody does, but the numbers have been rising. According to a survey by Pew Research Center released in July 2011, 35 percent of all American adults own smartphones. Of those smartphone owners, 87 percent use their phones for Internet and email, and 25 percent say they mostly go online using their phone rather than a computer.
So what does this mean for businesses? Basically, that a significant number of consumers regularly, and sometimes predominantly, use their phones for Internet access—including visiting company websites and even shopping. Consider these examples of companies taking advantage of mobile technology to target consumers:
- For the holiday season, customers can animate their Starbucks coffee cups by downloading an augmented reality app to their smartphones. The app works on the company’s red holiday cups and 47 other objects in Starbucks stores, such as bags of coffee, and features five different animations to unlock. Customers can then share snapshots of the animations on Facebook, send “eGifts” to friends, and use the app to find other Starbucks promotions during the holidays. Presumably, Starbucks hopes the app will draw more people to their stores, whether for an Eggnog Latte or a Christmas gift.
- Amazon’s new mobile app, called Flow Powered by Amazon, also employs augmented reality technology, but here it’s used to recognize an item by its barcode or just by what it looks like (the cover of a book or DVD, for example). Customers are then able to read reviews and purchase the product on Amazon through the app. The app also lets you share your searches on Twitter, Facebook, and through email. Additionally, customers can watch trailers and previews for some products.
- Walmart has created a mobile app that lets customers create shopping lists, which they can then use to manage their shopping budgets and find items in Walmart stores. Adding items to these lists will lead customers to related coupons and promotions. Customers can also scan barcodes, share product reviews, and use Apple’s Siri voice command in combination with the app. According to Walmart, the mobile app takes advantage of the extensive inventory systems used by stores to give consumers access to better product information. The company views the app as a kind of Walmart loyalty card, through which customers can find discounts, get recommendations, and develop a relationship with the company.
As evidenced by mobile apps like these and the increasing number of smartphone users, the retail landscape is changing. What will future shoppers—and stores—look like? Will we be making shopping lists with apps like Walmart’s, or will we be heading into big box stores just to scan everything to see if it’s cheaper on Amazon? Mobile devices and technology will surely change the way consumers approach shopping, but businesses, too, need to start thinking now about how the future will shape their marketing strategies for brick-and-mortar stores as well as online shopping destinations.
So, what do you think? Smartphone users, do you shop on your phone? Have you ever used these apps, or apps like them? How do you think mobile technology will change the way we shop, both online and in stores?