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In Between the Numbers: Think Again Before You Place That Big Bet on In-Store Consumer Mobile

February 20, 2012 - 1 Comment

 The conference call buzz of past weeks confirms that one of the retail tech topics du jour is the quest for a “mobility strategy.”

 Requests from good retailers. Meetings with smart folks hard at work identifying use models and value-creation plays for both associates and consumers.

 No question that it’s important.

 But every retailer should be asking how important – especially consumer mobility. Especially in today’s world of cross-channel shopping.

 Let’s look at the numbers.

 According to the Pew Research Center, somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of all US adults now own smartphones – a slice of America that is generally financially well-off and well-educated. Smartphone ownership also skews younger (ownership is near 60% of US residents between the ages of 25 and 34). Map the adoption rates, and it’s expected that half of US adults will be wielding smartphones by the end of 2013, and they’ll be standard issue for the Millennial generation.

 All which suggests it’s time to form the Mobility Strategy Committee.


 Smartphones are the main source of Internet access for one-quarter of owners – that’s about 10% of US adults right now. (The rest are using PCs or tablets.) In addition, roughly one-third of all mobile searches are in pursuit of local information (store hours, directions)… and some 60% of mobile Internet access happens at home. That’s curled up on the couch, not the roaming the aisles.

 Which means the number of potential smartphone barbarians now wreaking havoc in the aisles is roughly equal to four percent of adults. A higher number if your market is male Millennials (hello, Best Buy), less if you’re selling Gen X Moms (hello, Target).

 Are they a potential disruptor? Yes. Are they a trend? Yes. Are they as essential to your in-store business right now as other digital screens?

 Probably not.

Cisco’s own October 2011 research on the in-store digital screens that influence purchasing decisions compared current use and interest in five shopping concepts.

 On the list: smartphones, tablets, kiosks, digital interactive screens, video walls.

 The highest rating, across all income and age groups: in-store kiosks, cited by more than half of the respondents. Second place? Digital interactive in-store screens. Third? Video walls in store.

 Smartphones? Ranked fourth by US shoppers according to current use and future interest.

 In retrospect, not a surprise.

Smartphones in store often have nowhere to go. (As of mid-last year, 79% of the top retail websites were not mobile-enabled.) The Cisco study showed that 74% of respondents currently begin or want to begin shopping journeys with online research at home. And, the same study showed a clear in-store preference for large-scale, easy-to-read, interactive screens.

 All which suggests that the attention of the cross-channel shopper won’t be won by mobility alone.

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  1. I suspect the retailers with imagination will take advantage of this opportunity. When women started to work and families got two cars in the sixties it was the visionary grocers who built stores on the edge of town with big car parks and left their competitors behind. When the computer came to retail in the 80’s it was the visionary retailers who used the information to build super effecient or super agile supply chains and left their competitors behind. Now we have our highest potential value customers walking in to our stores with the internet in their hand. If history repeats the visionaries will find a way to exploit the opportunity and leave their competitors behind.