Shoppers with mobile devices are changing the retail landscape

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
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. 

Beyond the simple logic of the issue, 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. 

source: Emphatica via Mashable



1. Galen20K

Posts: 576; Member since: Dec 26, 2008

Best buy is hurting bad, they should just close up doors before it gets worse. I for one will not miss their incompetent and rude sales staff.

2. thinking

Posts: 130; Member since: Jan 19, 2012

Last year, I had a pathetic experience with BB in Florida, US, where I was visiting. I have reason to believe I was cheated (in the form of offloading old stock that would not work). Anyway, more on topic, normally, I feel the change has come to urban areas, especially when it comes to uniform products like electronics. The consumers know what they want. Short of being able to feel the devices, they can read reviews, even SEE them (embedded videos et al) work before making the decision to buy. It's not foolproof but the retail store is also not foolproof. The retail store may not have the model you want to check out but Internet will. The disadvantage will be that if one wants to have a feel before buying something, the choices will be far limited.

3. Nickmfnjackson

Posts: 101; Member since: Jan 21, 2010

The one thing that will always be easier at the retail store is returns/exchanges. It's much easier to just grab all the stuff you bought, stuff it in the box, and throw it on the counter for an instant exchange as opposed to filing for a return for an online transaction, printing a shipping label and send of for the refund, and then waiting (on top of any original waiting) for the return to be approved. That being said, I still do 95% of my shopping online and 70% on amazon. :-P

4. Tux4g63

Posts: 121; Member since: Oct 21, 2011

I feel like this will happen eventually and it will be sort of sad when it does. We won't really appreciate how much we missed seeing and feeling the products until we can't do that anymore someday because we nickel and dimed stores like Best Buy to death. Especially with how much faster and simpler the return/exchange process is physically in person compared to an online vender. I have seen customers who want a store to price match a product within a 1-3% range then state they will buy it online if that does not happen. Although that is the customers prerogative, I guess I wonder why it has to get to that level? I can see 1-3% being a big deal on a large and expensive item, but regularly I see it happening with things in the sub-$100 range. To me that just wreaks of pride. The store is not gaining any profit at that point, that slim margin is barely letting them keep the lights on. I strongly feel we should compare prices, but that if an item is literally a few dollars more to have right then and there, why not support a brick and mortar business some of the time?

6. thinking

Posts: 130; Member since: Jan 19, 2012

I don't think the store earns $1-$3 on a $100 product.

5. lsutigers

Posts: 832; Member since: Mar 08, 2009

Wow, I had no idea Best Buy was blocking mobile connections and removing barcodes to prevent customers from shopping for better prices on their smartphones. That almost seems fraudulent, considering they sell those very smartphones.

7. whothisperson

Posts: 102; Member since: May 06, 2012

Bestbuy: Amazon's Show Room

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