Are SmartPhones Making Us Smarter Shoppers?

Not so long ago, comparison shopping required actually going to several stores or sifting through every circular in the Sunday paper. And even as at-home internet access became commonplace, that didn’t really help if you’d gone to the store without doing the legwork in advance. But the rapid growth of web-enabled phones could be leading to better retail prices and more informed consumers.

A recent Wall Street Journal story cites some interesting statistics to lend credence to this theory. First, there’s the report by Coremetrics that says the number of customers using mobile devices to access retail websites on Black Friday in 2010 was more than 50 times greater than just a year earlier.

Second, the Journal quotes a retail consultant as saying that 45% of smartphone users had used their mobile devices for purposes of comparison shopping.

With this increasing transparency for prices, retailers may be forced to either cut prices to keep customers in the store or offer items that can’t be purchased elsewhere.

Many stores have already put an end to the practice of offering a lower online price than you’d get at a retail location. “Those days are over,” says the president of “The line between offline and online has been blurred.”

Some retailers are attempting to use smartphones to their advantage. For example, Best Buy has partnered with a price comparison app so that whenever someone searches for something at Walmart that could also be purchased at Best Buy, the user will be shown ads for these comparable BB products.

“That is an opportunity to steal a sale right when someone is in the throes of making a decision. That is what makes mobile so powerful,” says Best Buy Chief Marketing Officer.

Have you been using your smartphone to compare prices this holiday season?

Phone-Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers [WSJ]

Thanks to Lyn for the tip!


Edit Your Comment

  1. joe643 says:

    I have not, but this is the first thing I’ve learned about smartphones which actually make them more than glorified toys. And don’t even talk to me about GPS!

    • obits3 says:

      I love the GPS on my EVO! I was going through an unfamiliar neighborhood, so I turned on the GPS with satellite maps. It was like I was playing the Legend of Zelda. It was so accurate!

    • jessjj347 says:

      I find it helpful to look at reviews of products, while in the store.

      • baquwards says:

        That is also what I find most helpful. It is nice to know if the product is a dud or not. This is really useful in closeout type stores, because you get to see if it is an overstock or just a really terrible product being liquidated. I almost bought a Cuisinart blender chopper combo, but the reviews on Amazon were dismal so I passed.

    • sonneillon says:

      My phone GPS is subpar compared to my Garmin, but in a pinch it’s better than nothing.

    • SG-Cleve says:

      But you should talk about the GPS. Re-read the third-last paragraph of the post. It says that if you are physically standing in Wal-Mart and checking a price, you will see a Best Buy ad for that same item. (This is confirmed by reading the source article in the WSJ).

      Now how do you suppose they know that you’re standing in a Wal-Mart?

      That’s right – your phone’s GPS discloses your location to the advertising company. You gave them permission to do that when you installed the app on your phone.

  2. Sunflower1970 says:

    Have you been using your smartphone to compare prices this holiday season?

    I’ve used comparison shopping with my phone in the past, but not for this holiday season. I bought half online, and the other half were hand-made.

  3. tedyc03 says:

    One of the challenges facing smaller retailers is that they absolutely cannot compete on price. Lest we become a nation of big box stores only, small retailers are going to need to find new ways to compete and/or attract customers. Best Buy can afford to advertise on price comparison websites; your local mom-and-pop tech shop can’t.

    • Cantras says:

      Well, mom-and-pop can still make a facebook page or a twitter page pretty easily. I follow the twitter feed of an outdoor food cart in my city. They tweet out a warning (which goes to their facebook page as well) if they’re closed for weather. And I know I purchased a bag from someone who posted pictures of her shop on facebook and she was clearly making them in a back bedroom, but she posted sale notices in the status updates.

      For things like the best buy price comparison thing, yeah, they can’t sponsor an app. But it’s not hard to get a local presence built up.

      • baquwards says:

        Social media is great for local businesses. I have a few and I definitely go more often when they post specials and such.

      • colorisnteverything says:

        This. The local bike shop always posts sales on products and special nights for product demos. Everytime they have one, I go to meet up with friends and shop. Their prices may be a bit higher, but I would rather give them business and when I shop on these product nights, I am tempted not only to buy things that are on sale but also things that aren’t. So, it is a win-win for the local shop.

        Not to mention, if I have an issue with anything, they correct it. I had a tail light break on my commute to work. I road over at lunch and they replaced it with a temporary light and re-ordered and shipped my light to me no-questions asked. I returned the light to them.

  4. daemonaquila says:

    I don’t use my phone for comparison shopping, but I do use it as a way to get the right price. In the past year, I saved over $1,500 on my car because the manager’s “best offer” was $1,500 more than the price listed on their own website, and I’ve gotten all kinds of great hotel deals when traveling long distance on a flexible schedule because someone at the front desk was unaware of/wanted to deny the existence of room rates and specials listed right on their own websites.

  5. leetnick says:

    I got a router $40 off at the new New England Ultimate Electronics, all I had to do was scan the barcode and show them the competition…. It literally took under 2 minutes from “Do you price match?” to sale.

  6. earthprince says:

    I do my price comparisons before I enter stores, so its not a huge deal for me – unless the store has an in-store only deal I didn’t know about. In these cases, I’m already going into the store I found the best deal at, so any additional deals I didn’t know about in that store would only be a bonus.

  7. Alvis says:

    Considering how smartphone users pay different per-byte rates for voice, SMS, and web data, I submit that NO smartphone users are very savvy shoppers.

    • leetnick says:

      I submit to you to find a better alternative? I mean theres not any alternative to the “Big-Box” Cellular providers, and they all have atrocious rates.

    • Raekwon says:

      Or they get them free through their work.

    • SonarTech52 says:

      My plan has unlimited data/text and I share 1500 minutes a month with the family. There are no data tiers or anything, I can watch TV online, YouTube , stream music etc.. No extra charge.

    • Bativac says:

      I submit that you are sorely mistaken. The $199 I saved on a big screen TV more than makes up for the first year of my $17 data plan. But good job painting all smart phone users with the same ill-informed brush.

      • Alvis says:

        And that savings -required- a smartphone or was it just easier to get with one? If the latter, you still wasted money.

    • obits3 says:

      When I upgraded to an EVO, I looked at the total package. For about $85 month (this includes taxes) I get:

      Unlimited text
      4G data (It does make a difference)
      450 anytime
      The above 450 is not used by: Other Cell Phones, Nights & Weekends starting at 7 PM (So basically it is for land lines)
      Unlimited data which allows me to do things like:
      Check email
      Watch youtube
      Stream Pandora in my car
      Use the full web
      I think that is a pretty good deal.

      • Alvis says:

        I dunno – for me, $85 is a CRAPLOAD of money to shell out every month (then again, I don’t have cable). I couldn’t stomach a smartphone contract without feeling like I was being ripped off every day.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          So your real answer should be “whatever floats your boat.” You might feel ripped off but others clearly find a lot of value in their smartphones. It’s a great thing that we’re all different, huh?

      • Geekybiker says:

        I get that for $50. ;)

    • Corinthos says:

      I’m on a grandfathered tmobile data plan i pay 30 a month for their 5gig data, unlmited sms and 2000 minutes all together. I just wish they offered better phones because I have to buy them outright to upgrade to not lose my plan.

  8. Talisker says:

    I use my phone all the time to compare prices. More often than not I find the item I’m looking at at a lower price at Amazon or Newegg. A few times I’ve had questions for sales people but couldn’t find any, so I looked up the item online, answered my question, and bought the item within a few minutes. It’s getting to the point that I don’t even bother going to brick-and-mortar stores any more since I can do all the price comparisons I need to do from home. I still need to try on clothes and shoes (unless I just order the same style I already have, in which case I already know how they fit).

    I’m a smarter shopper because I am saving money, I’m able to see other consumer reviews of the item, and I don’t have to spend money on gas or parking. Instead of spending a few hours to go to the mall after something, I’m only spending a few minutes online.

  9. SonarTech52 says:

    I did just use the barcode scanner app the other day to price check. I found the lowest price was at the store I was already at, so I bought the item. Was pretty cool.

    • Supes says:

      Like the story notes, this will become more common, as stores (especially big box stores) are starting to get “exclusive versions” of products with tiny variations so they don’t show up on price matches.

      Not saying you didn’t actually get the lowest price, but a simple Google search of an item also helps make certain.

      • leetnick says:

        Supes makes a good point, consumers make things easier and more efficient for themselves…and instead of matching prices retailers find a sneaky underhanded way of dealing with it.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Well, if Target is offering a Target-exclusive version of something, there wouldn’t be a point to price comparison for that product as it is only offered at Target. The only thing to do is compare the regular wide-release version of the product with the one only offered at Target and see which one you like more.

        • Supes says:

          Oh of course, I was just noting that they do this with the specific intention of defying the smartphone barcode scanners. They’re doing this to keep the consumer less informed.

          It’s a losing proposition though, as smartphone apps will catch up and compensate for this in the near future, I’m certain. It’s just frustrating that a retailer will sabotage a consumer to gain sales, rather than improve their product.

      • SonarTech52 says:

        Just an fyi, the barcode scanner app checks google. That is what I ended up getting the info from.

  10. Qantaqa says:

    You know what else they’re great for? Reviews. Game Stop + buy 2 get 1 used game free + mobile internet = sad bank account, happy gamer.

  11. usernameandp says:

    Nothing about smart phones is making anyone smarter. Computers, internet, phones & gps are making people lazy and stupid. Those select few who are “smart” are the engineers & programmers. The minority.

    Eventually these truly smart ones will start living under ground, while the stupid sheeple (end users) will live above ground & serve as their food. Mark my words…

  12. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Well, it’s making me a more profitable shopper. *shakes fist at Amazon app* seriously, because of that app, I have been able to buy Christmas gifts in the time it takes for me to walk from the train to my office.

  13. Hi_Hello says:

    i use it to compare similiar product, not just exact same product. Bought a camera that was on sale, cheaper than any other place. They did try to sell my an overprice sd card that came with a few case…. bought a faster sd card, more memory and a case somewhere else and it was more than 50% cheaper.

    the reviews part are awesome too.

  14. Portlandia says:

    At Toys R Us this weekend, bought several items, about $100 worth.

    Every single item was listed cheaper at or at walmart. As the Checker scanned them, I showed him my iphon and where the price was lower. In the end, we saved about $27 bucks on the toys.

    So, I may not shop smarter, I do save money.

  15. Mr Grey says:

    My iPhone is a toy. I play some games or post to Facebook to pass idle time.
    I have installed the red laser app to compare prices but i usually have an idea of what something costs before i head to the store.

  16. Geekybiker says:

    I have to figure that they hate the UPS scanning apps that will automatically look up prices for you. I’ll scan anything I don’t need *today* in store and if its more than a few bucks more, I order online.

  17. gman863 says:

    The retail industry now has a term for this: Drive-By Shopping.

    If possible, I want my next phone to have a built-in UPC scanner. For stores that price match, I suspect making price checking this easy would pay for the cost of the scanner phone in under a year.