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Why pre-shopping on mobile predates in-store purchases

While a slew of retailers are rolling out mobile-only promotions ahead of major shopping days, the key to driving sales lies in leveraging smartphones as an in-store shopping companion with which customers can conduct product research and comparisons.

Mobile showrooming is still alive and well in the retail world, meaning that retailers must ensure their in-store and digital prices are equal for those consumers who look up desired items when shopping at bricks-and-mortar locations. However, mobile pre-shopping has also become a bigger deal recently, as many brands release holiday lookbooks and special promotions to fuel consumers to spend via smartphones or come explore in-store.

“Customers are on the lookout for value,” said Lance Eliot, president of information technology at Interactions. “Interactions’ Retail Perceptions report, The Holiday Shopper: Trends to Expect This Season, found that over a third of holiday shoppers surveyed began their holiday shopping early this year – before Halloween.

“Nearly half of those surveyed said they will use a mobile device to make purchase decisions this holiday season. Retailers that want to capitalize on the seasonal sales surge brought upon by the holidays, their opportunity lies in crossing the conventional boundaries of time and technology to meet their customers’ holiday shopping needs.”

Teasing deals on mobile
Plenty of retailers are flocking to mobile to entice consumers with smartphone-specific deals and exclusive looks at sale items. A plethora of customers may opt to complete their holiday shopping on mobile if the discounts are hefty enough, but the more likely scenario is that mobile pre-shopping will actually augment in-store traffic.

For example, Victoria’s Secret recently encouraged Instagram fans to click a link in its profile, which contained a lookbook for Black Friday specials. The sale products were curated in an artistic, enticing way, with prices available below.

Therefore, interested shoppers could have been fueled to walk in-store and ask an associate about some of the featured items.

Meanwhile, Sephora drove downloads of its mobile application by taking to Snapchat to advertise exclusive first looks at doorbuster deals that were visible to app users several days before sales hit stores (see story).

“There will be a lot of smartphone-savvy shoppers this holiday season that go into a store to kick-the-tires on products, so to speak, but then look up products online,” Mr. Eliot said. “Retailers need to make sure they have low prices, low enough that the price difference between in-store price and online prices is minimal.

“If the price in-store is low enough, the buyer will make the purchase in-store,” he said. “According to Interactions’ Retail Perceptions Report, 55 percent of holiday shoppers will use their cell phones to research products while they shop in-store—a practice known as showrooming—mostly to find cheaper prices and compare brands or products.”

One strategy that brands should steer clear of is inundating users with mobile content. Advertising deals and exclusive items via social media or mobile apps is a sound tactic, but retailers must be cognizant of the slew of other marketing materials consumers regularly receive, ranging from direct mail coupons to catalogs.

Pre-shopping on mobile
Brands must also ensure that the prices advertised on mobile are equal to those seen in-store or online. Research shows that more consumers than ever are planning to conduct at least one step of the shopping journey via mobile, whether it be browsing, researching or making a purchase.

“Estimates suggest that more than half of all shoppers pre-shop,” said Nick Edwards, co-founder and CEO of Boomtrain, San Francisco. “If we extrapolate the data, mobile is a dominant pre-shopping channel as customers use the convenience of their mobile device to browse and research — but potentially purchase later either in-store or on a desktop (50 percent of ecommerce traffic is mobile, yet only 25 percent of ecommerce transactions are made on mobile).”

Nevertheless, offering mobile-specific promotions will still resonate with plenty of shoppers. A customer who purchases a time-sensitive deal via his or her smartphone may be swayed to visit the retailer’s bricks-and-mortar location ahead of the holidays to find similar products or sales.

“Building awareness with customers in advance of major shopping days is important — but it’s equally important to communicate with relevant, targeted deals,” Mr. Edwards said. “Trends suggest consumer behavior is shifting away from big holiday shopping marathons to more frequent buys and activity, called ‘micro-moments,’ happening on mobile.

“As all this activity like showrooming and ‘micro-moments’ is good news for online retailers, they must be prepared deliver relevant, real-time messages at every touch point to win over consumers. When consumers do receive these seamless omnichannel experiences, the result is huge (and the opposite of fatigue): retailers find consumers to be eight times more valuable.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York