Shoppers with mobile devices are changing the retail landscape
One of the most powerful things about our new smartphones and mobile devices is that they allow us to interact with our local environment in new and exciting ways that will, theoretically, add value to everyday activities. We can instantly share anything that we find interesting or note-worthy, get feedback from others before making decisions, and generally being able to access tons of information on any topic from anywhere. Of course, this kind of power is inevitably going to be disruptive to established businesses, like say brick-and-mortar retail stores.
The ability to instantly get reviews and price comparisons while shopping has completely broken down the business model of physical retail stores. Some stores have tried to embrace the change, but most are trying to avoid it, like Best Buy, in the hope that by burying their heads in the sand, they may be spared. This won't work, though, because physical retail stores hold little value aside from offering the ability to buy something and walk out the door with it, and the ability to physically interact with product. Most purchases don't require any immediacy, so the lower prices of online stores (because they have no overhead for a physical retail space) almost always wins out.
Emphatica has taken a survey which underscores the troubles that physical retail stores face. In a survey of 6500 U.S. Internet users (52% of which were smartphone users), 55% of those identified as smartphone users have compared prices on their mobile devices while in a physical retail store. That is more than twice the number of people (27%) who used mobile to find reviews of products.
That makes it seem as though shoppers, especially shoppers equipped with smartphones, are flat out more informed today. Presumably, some of the majority that didn't use mobile to find reviews in store had done some form of research beforehand. And, once you know what you want, it's a matter of going to the store to interact with the item (if you don't want to trust online reviews), and comparing prices once the purchase decision has been made.
It almost makes you wonder if perhaps the future of retail stores is to hold just about the bare minimum of actual stock. Stock would be held specifically for those who want the item immediately, which would have a fee associated with it, and other customers would be pushed towards purchasing an item which will be delivered to them. This would mean each store would need less space by offloading product storage to a cheaper location, and lower overhead costs for stores in premium real estate locations.
That seems like an inevitable transition that stores will have to make, but established corporations are always reluctant to have to change their business models in the face of new technology. Most would prefer to fight against the new technology rather than evolve. So, the interesting thing to watch won't be whether or not stores accept the new technology, but for how long they will employ tactics like Best Buy to limit mobile data connections, and remove barcodes from products in order to fight back.