If you were to believe what you read in the press (both marketing and otherwise) today’s shoppers are incapable of shopping without their phones. Led by companies such as Google, marketers are led to believe that shoppers find it hard to pick up so much as a can of tomatoes without consulting their social network. From reading these reports and articles, it would be easy to believe that stores are full of smartphone clutching shoppers at every turn and that mobile marketing was an essential part of every shopper marketing campaign. Yet the reality seems quite different. When I walk around stores I don’t see the majority of shoppers consulting their phones repeatedly as they walk around a store. How can shopper marketers cut through the hype about smartphone usage in-store and understand how digital and mobile marketing can support their in-store marketing activities.
In-store mobile marketing – don’t believe what you read
Unfortunately, too many of the statistics that are published are done so in a way which is misleading. Some are propagated by companies who have an interest in persuading marketers that connecting with a shopper via their phone while they shop is an essential part of the shopper marketing mix.
Sometimes people see things in data that they want to see. Javelin Group (who sell digital retail solutions) quote Google as saying that “84% of shoppers with smartphones use their devices to help shop when shopping in-store.” I’ve not included a link for reasons which will become apparent shortly. Call me a fact-checking nerd (yes, there are few of us in this post-fact world we live in), but I thought I’d check what Google had actually said. Javelin had kindly provided a link to the Google report, and in it, it says that they surveyed ‘smartphone owners who use their smartphones while shopping’.
Do you see what those Javelin people did? They just shuffled the words around. “Smartphone owner who uses their smartphone to shop”, becomes ‘shoppers with smartphones’. Hmm. Can you see that a shopper with a smartphone is hardly the same thing as someone who uses their smartphone when shopping. (and before anyone says I’m picking on plucky little Javelin – they are part of Accenture – they should know better!) It’s probably a simple mistake, but a mistake that misleads and encourages marketers to believe that mobile marketing is essential to engage with shoppers.
In-store mobile marketing – check what the data actually says
And how about Google? Their study only spoke to shoppers who use their smartphones while shopping – so how many is this? Google are helpfully transparent: 79% of shoppers say that they have used their smartphone to help shopping. Note that isn’t the same as ‘used it in-store’. This could be any shopping activity. So 84% of 79% of shoppers (that’ll be 66%) say that they have used their smartphone in-store for shopping. Still a big number but not quite the same as 84%. I’ve dropped a note to Javelin and hopefully they’ll update the site (at which point I’ll happily include a link).
Smartphone usage in-store – it happens, but how often?
But even if it is only 66% of shoppers using their phones, that’s still a pretty big number. How is it that when I go to stores I don’t see this?
Again, Google are very helpful (if you push past the headline). Of the 79% of shoppers who use their phone while shopping, only 21.5 % do it at least once a week. Almost 80% are using their smartphone to help shopping less than once a week (but at least once a month).
So let’s now get to the in-store bit shall we? 79% of shoppers with phones use them to aid shopping. But 80% of those only use their phone to aid shopping ‘once a month or more’ and less than once week. And only 84% of them do it in store. So we have around 66% of shoppers saying that they use the smartphone in a store, but that it could be less than once a month (as the once a month number was just using the phone for shopping, not necessarily going to a store?) How many shopping decisions are made in a two or three weeks? I’ve tracked my purchases over the last three weeks and I’ve bought about 170 items. So what Google is saying that, of those 170 purchases, maybe 55% of people might have used their smartphone at some stage in one or more of those purchases. We’ve gone from the idea of mobile phones being important 84% of the time, to perhaps one in 350! Google didn’t lie, but the data is positioned in such a way as to create quite a message which suggests mobile marketing is perhaps more important than it actually is.
Most shopping decisions are not guided by a mobile phone
Which makes the best headline. 84% of shoppers use their phone in-store? Or Smartphone might be involved in one in 300 purchase decisions? Well that depends whether you are trying to sell digital solutions, or trying to really understand shoppers. Smartphone usage in-store by shoppers clearly happens, but not as often as the headlines might suggest. Put it another way, while there is high penetration of smartphone usage in-store by shoppers, its frequency is very low. Under those circumstances, mobile marketing is quite a different proposition.
Mobile marketing – What is the smartphone usage in-store for your target shoppers?
How often do you go to a store in a month? How many decisions do you make? In all of that, maybe, for about two-thirds of us might use our phone once. In a month. Yes some use their phone at least once a week (around 15% of total shoppers), but even so, it isn’t quite the same as the hyperbole of ‘84%’ is it? At least once, out of all the shopping moments in a week. And we haven’t even asked whether the phone influenced the decision!
Most shopping decisions are not guided by a mobile phone. Even fewer in-store decisions involve a phone. Whatever the media you are choosing to communicate with shoppers, stop and think. Before you focus a new campaign on digital or mobile marketing, think about who are the shoppers you are targeting. What do you want them to do differently as they shop? Where can you influence them to do that? Is there any evidence that this methodology can influence shoppers, or is it just more hype and distortion?
For more on the biggest mistakes made with marketing communication in-store, check out this post.