Smartphones beget smartshopping, research says

About six months ago I joined the ranks of the 30 percent of the U.S. population that owns a smartphone, and already I can’t begin to count the ways in which it has improved my life: unlimited photo uploading to Facebook of my pets sleeping; sending pictures to friends to ask advice on which pair of shoes I should buy; playing Angry Birds waiting in line for lunch; and texting with friends on both coasts as we watch Camille and Kyle duke it out on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Of course, I also use my smartphone’s features for more practical activities like paying bills, checking the weather, finding directions to the nearest grocery store and in general trying to be a savvier, more efficient shopper.

A November 2010 study from Stamford, Conn., research company InsightExpress explored the holiday shopping behaviors of smartphone owners, and it reminded me of the many ways having a smartphone has shaped my in-store shopping. Overall, smartphone owners are using their devices to shop smarter. Gone are the days of gift givers cruising the Internet in preparation for upcoming excursions – consumers can do it on the fly. Smartphones in hand, consumers have a digital shopping buddy in their back pocket that will help them find better deals, comparison shop and increase their overall satisfaction with the shopping experience.

Study data revealed that for the 2010 holiday season, 29 percent of all smartphone owners intended to use their device to look for a better price; 23 percent said they would look for product reviews; 22 percent said they would receive sale alerts; and 20 percent said they would search for products at another store. Shoppers also planned to make use of additional features such as mobile barcode scanning technology (19 percent) and coupons received on their phones (19 percent). The research also showed that shoppers intended to use smartphone cameras, with 34 percent planning to take pictures of products in store and 25 percent planning to send pictures to other people to solicit opinions.

As I read through that list, I realized that I take part in many of those activities without hesitation. Comparison shopping has simply become part of the process, and when I don’t have time to do a quick search on my phone I worry that I’m about to be had. Couponing is no different: When 20 percent off is just a few taps of the touchscreen away, not using one makes me wonder if I’m foolish for paying full price.

Putting aside my own neuroses, the good news is that this smartphone/smartshopping trend could coax retailers into offering a better mobile Web experience with their sites, easier-to-use apps, more coupons and perhaps even better products and prices. This holiday season, before buying a teeth-whitening kit I checked the reviews (and the price) on and also saved myself a few wasted trips to specialty shops by checking the hours before making the trek in the snow. Once at the guest services desk at Target I was able to show them a lower price on a Honeywell fan at Home Depot, which they then matched.

I’m not saying that my smartphone has paid for itself, but it’s getting close! It makes me wonder what the next big thing in technology-enhanced shopping will be and how much smoother – or more complicated? – the retail experience will be because of it. How has your shopping behavior changed with the new technologies available? Do you see any of yourself in these reported trends?

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