Monthly Archives: March 2015

Much Ado About Nothing – Again

ASLlogo300    The longer I do marketing research, the more I realize there are no absolutes in our business. I find myself being less patient with those who proclaim absolutes, especially those who do so with a religious fervor that used to get people locked up. I’ve written in this space before (Meet the New Consumer) about our misconception of the “new consumer”, one who is overly reliant on digital technology and who researches everything or doesn’t dare make a purchase without consulting social media. If you want to hear the delivered word, attend an MRMW conference – the true believers gather regularly in a bacchanal of why everything must be mobile. The Omni-channel adherents hold similar covens, and I’d expect it to be just as orthodox.

For those of you who hang out on Greenbook’s blog site, LinkedIn’s consumer research and insights sites, or Retailwire (a great place to see what goes on in retail stores), you’ve heard the rants about why everything must be digital. The cry goes out, “Your shoppers are wired, why aren’t you!?” on a fairly regular basis. So I’d like to tell you why you shouldn’t care so much.

Michael Sciandra and Jeff Inman, both of the University of Pittsburgh, used the 2012 and 2013 POPAI studies to understand smart phone usage in grocery stores and mass-merchandisers1. Here are some of things they found about smart phone usage:

  • Only 8% of grocery shoppers and 19% of mass-merchandiser shoppers use their smart phones for a shopping-related activity.
  • Of those using a smart phone for shopping related activity, only 9% used it for something other than looking at their shopping list or calling for help with their decision in a grocery store. That’s less than 1% of shoppers checking out products or prices. 1 PERCENT!!! In mass-merchandisers, the proportion is higher, but then the products are different, not necessarily a grocery item.

More interesting though is the impact that using a smart phone for a shopping-related activity (as opposed to chatting with friends) has on shopping behavior:

  • Using your smart phone does not increase the number of unplanned purchases you make. So if you are one of those folk who think beacons are the wave of the future, you need some good data to back up your point. This study says it is not likely to be effective in driving incremental purchases.
  • Indeed, the study suggests that if you buy a lot of things in the store, as opposed to a quick trip, you actually reduce the number of unplanned purchases. Good for the shopper in keeping to a budget, bad for the retailer.
  • When you can’t find an item in the grocery store, using a smart phone does not increase substitute purchasing. If you can’t find an item in mass-merchandisers, you are more likely to buy a substitute, but only if you are using your device as a calculator. So shoppers are not resorting to the internet or friends or family members to figure out what to buy when our intended product isn’t there.
  • Shoppers using a smart phone do not buy as many of their planned purchases. Yes, that’s correct – you take your phone into the store and use it to aid in your shopping and you buy fewer things than you planned to buy!

While I have a number of methodological niggles with this study, and the authors do a good job of pointing them out themselves, these results should astound you. Marketing folk are all “digital this” and “mobile that” and the retailers are all wringing their hands trying to figure out what to do. Meanwhile, we get data that says nobody is actually using their phones in the stores for shopping and when they do, the retailer suffers and they don’t do a good job of shopping for themselves.

We need to get over the idea that using mobile devices are ubiquitous in the stores where most of our purchases take place. We need to get over the idea that people want to be bombarded with messages while they are in the store. And while this data doesn’t say you shouldn’t have a good web site or a digital strategy for your customers, it does say you shouldn’t encourage in-store mobile device usage.

1 Sciandra, M. and Inman, J. “Smart Phones, Bad Calls: In-Store Mobile Technology Use and Consumer Purchase Behavior”. MSI Report No. 14-116.

Originally published on on 17 March 2015