January 30, 2012

The rise of in-store mobile commerce

How Americans used their phones to assist with purchasing decisions this holiday season

More than half of adult cell phone owners used their cell phones while they were in a store during the 2011 holiday season to seek help with purchasing decisions. During a 30 day period before and after Christmas:

  • 38% of cell owners used their phone to call a friend while they were in a store for advice about a purchase they were considering making
  • 24% of cell owners used their phone to look up reviews of a product online while they were in a store
  • 25% of adult cell owners used their phones to look up the price of a product online while they were in a store, to see if they could get a better price somewhere else

Taken together, just over half (52%) of all adult cell owners used their phone for at least one of these three reasons over the holiday shopping season and one third (33%) used their phone specifically for online information while inside a physical store—either product reviews or pricing information.

Detailed findings—online product reviews and calling friends for purchasing advice

There are a number of demographic patterns in these survey findings. Specifically:

  • Cell owners ages 18-49 are significantly more likely to use their phones for online product reviews than are cell owners ages 50 and older. Cell owners ages 65 and older are especially unlikely to do this—just 4% did so this holiday season.
  • Urban and suburban cell owners are roughly twice as likely as rural cell owners to have recently used their phone to look up online reviews of a product they found in a physical store.
  • Non-white cell owners are more likely than white cell owners to look up online product reviews, and those who have attended college are more likely to do so than those who have not.

Detailed findings—cell phones as a tool for online price matching

Online price matching and looking up online reviews frequently go hand in hand. Overall, of the 33% of cell owners who used their phone recently in a store to look up either product reviews or prices online, roughly half (representing 17% of all cell owners) used their phones to engage in both of these activities.

As a result, the same groups that use their phones to look up online product reviews—such as cell owners under 50 years old, non-whites, those with at least some college experience and those living in urban or suburban areas—are generally the same ones that use their phones to look up online pricing information.

One in five “mobile price matchers” ultimately made their most recent purchase from an online store, rather than a physical location

When asked what happened on the most recent occasion where they used their phone to look up the price online of a product they found in a store, these mobile price matchers point to a range of outcomes:

  • 37% decided to not purchase the product at all
  • 35% purchased the product at that store
  • 19% purchased the product online
  • 8% purchased the product at another store

Since one quarter of cell owners looked up the price of a product using their phone in the 30 days preceding our survey, that works out to 5% of all cell owners who purchased a product online this holiday season after looking up its price online from a physical store. An additional 9% of all cell owners searched for the price of a product they found in a physical store but ultimately purchased it at that store.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world. The Pew Internet Project explores the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the work place, schools, health care and civic/political life.  The Project is nonpartisan and takes no position on policy issues. Support for the Project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More information is available at www.pewinternet.org