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Not very old school: using smart devices to shop for supplies

By Evan Wade / August 28, 2013

Back-to-school season, a prime money-maker for retailers, made mobile news this month thanks to PriceGrabber’s annual back-to-school survey. 13% of respondents stated they planned to buy pens, pencils and Trapper Keepers (yes, they still have those) using smartphones while 16% said they would outfit their kids using tablets. Those numbers are up a respective 6% and 8% from 2012.

That may not seem like that big of a deal on the surface, and it only reflects those shoppers advanced enough to respond to a PriceGrabber survey to begin with, but the implications are huge for online retailers. Mobile shopping apps and touchscreen-friendly websites will dominate an even larger percentage of traditional web traffic in years to come.

Why shoppers love the touchscreen

The PriceGrabber survey shows that an increasing number of shoppers are purchasing essential goods online with no problem. That means phones and tablets have officially made the transition from mystifying technology to just another tool the average shopper can use.

Many shoppers choose to do business online because of the convenience factor, and smart devices often trump the PC when it comes to ease of use. If online shoppers would rather use the Internet than drive to the store, it makes sense that they would rather do their shopping on their couch instead of in their home office.

Purchasing isn’t the only part of shopping, however, and it certainly isn’t the only reason people love shopping online. A 2011 survey of mothers who use their smartphones to shop, conducted by online ad network Greystripe, cites several factors in the move toward mobile retail —  chief among them cost savings and convenience.

Nearly half of the respondents use a data device to find the nearest brick-and-mortar location, while 36% also use their iPhone or Android to do price comparisons. Another 31% of respondents research the products they want to buy with a phone or tablet.

Don’t upset mobile customers — ever

Businesses, particularly large ones, know the goldmine that smartphones represent, not to mention the lost sales an unsatisfactory (or worse, nonexistent) mobile experience can cause. But should they be doing more?

A June mobile news update — citing data from Skava marketing group’s general shopper survey — claims 88% of respondents have had some sort of negative issue while doing their shopping through a mobile device, and that 30% “would never return to [the retailer in question’s] mobile website again” because of it.

Less vindictive shoppers are a little more forgiving of a bad app or mobile site experience, but the data is clear, you don’t want to make a mobile customer angry. UI issues in particular seem to create spurned shoppers.

Poor navigation (as compared to the full-site experience) and small product images irritated around 50% of all respondents in Skava’s survey, indicating two huge areas of importance for retailers wanting to take advantage of the mobile boom.

Mobile retail is the future

If your business sells its wares online, a large percentage of your virtual shoppers probably own a smartphone or tablet. And if they don’t, the data on mobile news sites across the Internet indicates they soon will. Simply having a mobile site is a critical first step, but it’s going to take more than that as the technology becomes more sophisticated.

Keeping tech-savvy customers around with an optimized interface that’s every bit as useful as your online offerings is crucial to your mobile success. From Tax-Free Weekend to Cyber Monday to a regular Tuesday, make sure your online shoppers get the VIP treatment.