Holiday shopping is about to kick into high gear, and retailers are ramping up efforts to capture sales at multiple touchpoints — not just their stores. Google’s retail team, in fact, is calling this the first “Nonline” shopping season, contending that consumers, accompanied by smartphones wherever they shop, no longer see a divide between online and offline shopping, and neither do savvy retailers.
In a survey of 1,500 consumers released Tuesday, Google found that four in five mobile and tablet owners plan to use their devices as part of holiday shopping. Forty-five percent of smartphone users will use those devices to compare prices; even more (56 percent) will do so on a tablet. Smartphone owners also plan to use their devices to locate stores (44 percent), look up coupons (39 percent) and read reviews (34 percent).
Tablet owners will lean even more heavily on reviews (48 percent), and will also use their devices to research product information (46%) and complete purchases (45 percent).
As illustrated in the graphic below, shoppers turn to different platforms at different stages in the buying cycle. Just over half of people research online and then visit a store to complete a purchase. Forty-four percent research online and buy products there. About a third do research online, visit a store and then go back online to complete a purchase, while 17 percent start at a store and then purchase online — practices known as “showrooming.”
To prevent shoppers from going back online to make a purchase, both Best Buy and Target have pledged to match prices with select online retailers. Target has promised to match prices with Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Best Buy.com, Toysrus.com, Babiesrus.com and Target.com between Nov. 1 and Dec. 16; Best Buy has not yet released details on its promotion. Walmart, I’m told, is expected to announce its own price-matching scheme for the holidays as well.
“Consumers have been ahead of retailers for a long time,” Todd Pollack, director of retail at Google, observed in an interview with Mashable. “What’s interesting is that retailers are now embracing all these trends. They’ve made the investments they need to make in mobile websites and online video, and they’re price-matching in stores.” Pollack added that he didn’t know whether price-matching would be “a good or a bad thing,” but pointed out that retailers are “at least acknowledging and working with these behaviors.”
According to Google’s research, a full 85 percent of shoppers expect to start shopping for a gift on one device and finish it on another. They’ll aid that process by storing items in bookmarks and shopping carts (45 percent), and e-mailing themselves links (45 percent). Some expect to use devices simultaneously: 55 percent say they’ll use their smartphone with a computer. Twenty percent said they’ll use their tablet with a computer, and eight percent will use all three together. Just six percent expect to shop with a tablet and a smartphone at the same time.
The majority will complete their purchases on a computer (65 percent), while 16 percent of smartphone users and 10 percent of tablet users expect to check out on each of those devices, respectively. Many more (80 percent) will use the Internet for shopping guidance, trumping both catalogs (49 percent) and magazines (27 percent). More than a third say the Internet will influence the kinds and brands of gifts they buy, and the retailers they shop with.
Looking at data from last year, Google found that mobile searches in its Shopping category peak on Thanksgiving, with smaller spikes on Black Friday and the day after Christmas. “Last year was the first year stores opened after Thanksgiving dinner, rather than the next day,” Pollack says of the Thanksgiving numbers. “I don’t know if you can call that showrooming, though it could be indicative of that. These [searches] could also be happening during dinner.”
In all, it should be a good season for retailers. Google found that shoppers expect to spend more ($900 vs. an average of $854 last season) and start shopping earlier this year than in years past. Online retailers should benefit especially: According to eMarketer’s estimates, Americans will spend $54.5 billion online this holiday, excluding travel — an increase of 16.8 percent from 2011. These sales will make up nearly a quarter of all U.S. retail ecommerce sales for the year.
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