Before Christmas last year, there was a lot of talk about how Amazon and other online retailers now try to get shoppers to compare prices while they are in a physical store and hopefully switch from buying that CD at Best Buy to buying it for cheaper on Amazon. According to a new study by the PEW Internet & American Life Project, just about 25% of U.S. cell phone owners actually did this in the 30 days leading up to Christmas. Just about the same 25% also used their phones to look up reviews while in a store.
PEW, which likes to publish large numbers to attract attention, notes that 38% of cell owners occasionally call friends for advice about a purchase, leading PEW to conclude that, taking all cell phone usage in stores together, more than 50% of cell phone owners now use their phones to make purchase decisions while in a store.
When it comes to accessing online reviews, about a third of cell phone owners do this while they are out shopping. Men are more likely to try real-time price matching while they are in a store than women (31% vs. 20%) and, unsurprisingly, younger and more educated cell phone owners are more likely to do so than older and less educated ones.
Once they are in a store, only 20% of shoppers who looked up prices online actually decided to then buy the product they were looking for online. About a third still purchased the product at the store and 37% decided not to buy the product at all. For companies like Best Buy then, abandoned shopping carts seem to be a bigger problem than online price comparison engines once they get a shopper walks through their doors (though the number of people who actually walk into physical stores has surely been reduced significantly thanks to online shopping already).
Looking at all the cell phone owners in the U.S. (including those that didn’t use their phone for price comparisons in a store), this means that just about 5% of them were actually persuaded to make an online purchase while they were in a store. That's not quite the apocalypse for physical retailers that some predicted, but it's definitely a number that will hurt the bottom lines of brick-and-mortar retailers, especially given that there is no reason to assume that this number will drop anytime soon.