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Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
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Consumers and Mobile Financial Services
March 2013

How Mobile Phones Affect Shopping Behavior


Interest in Mobile Services

Mobile phone users expressed significant interest in expanding the range of functions they could perform with their phones. Consumers were asked to select the types of activity they would be interested in performing with their mobile phones, assuming the function were made available to them (figure 7). Consumers appear to be quite open to greater use of their phones as a tool to get the best prices in their shopping activities: 39 percent express an interest in using their phones to compare prices while shopping; 27 percent indicate that they would like to receive and manage discount offers and coupons; and 26 percent would like to receive location-based offers. Similarly, they would like to use their phones to buy things at the point of sale (22 percent) and to store gift cards or track loyalty/reward points (21 percent). Consumers also report that they would use their mobile phones to manage their personal finances on a daily basis (25 percent).

Consumers were asked directly about their level of agreement with the statement "I am willing to allow my mobile phone to provide my location to companies so that they can offer me discounts, promotions, or services based on where I am." There appears to be significant discomfort with providing one's location to companies, as only 4 percent indicated that they "strongly agree," while 26 percent indicated that they "agree." In contrast, 28 percent indicated that they "disagree" and 40 percent "strongly disagree."

Consumers are even less willing to allow their phones to be used to provide companies with their personal information in order to receive targeted discounts, promotions, and offers. When asked about their level of agreement with the statement "I am willing to allow my mobile phone to provide personal information such as my sex, age, friends, and shopping history to companies so that they can offer me discounts, promotions, or services based on this information," 50 percent strongly disagreed and an additional 32 percent disagreed.

Figure 7. Would you like to use your mobile phone for any of the following purposes, assuming they were made available to you?

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Note: This was question 50 in the survey (see Appendix 2); number of respondents was 2,291.

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In-Store Product Research and Price Comparison

Consumers are increasingly using their mobile phones to comparison shop and obtain product information while in retail stores. The increasing prevalence of smartphones with barcode scanning software and Internet access has altered consumer behavior in the retail environment. With this technology, consumers can quickly and easily compare prices across retailers while in a store or online, or locate an item that is out of stock. The prevalence of consumers going to retail stores to examine products and then purchasing them online at lower prices is sufficient for retailers to have coined the term "showrooming" to describe this type of shopping.

Among smartphone owners, 42 percent say that they have used their mobile phone to comparison shop on the Internet while at a retail store, and 32 percent have used a barcode scanning application for price comparisons. Consumers are also using their smartphones to obtain product information: 34 percent have scanned a QR code in a newspaper, magazine, or billboard advertisement to obtain information about a product, and 44 percent have used their phone to get product reviews or product information while shopping at a retail store.

Many consumers who use their smartphone to comparison-shop report that they altered their decisions as a result: 64 percent who have comparison-shopped in a store report that they changed where they made a purchase after comparing prices, and 70 percent report that they changed what they purchased as a result of reading product reviews on their smartphone while at a retail store.

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Last update: August 2, 2013