Smartphones and tablets: Gateway to greater sales or to more competition?

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — The fact that 3-out-of-every-4 smartphone and tablet owners use their devices to help them shop is downright frightening. Because the real question then becomes, "Where are those consumers making that purchase — is it at retail or with someone whose name starts with 'www.'?"

(THE NEWS: Nielsen survey unveils how smartphone, tablet owners use devices for shopping-related activities. For the full story, click here.)

That's a big part of the reasoning behind Target's decision in the past week to kick Kindle to the curb — during the holidays, Amazon.com had been encouraging shoppers to use brick-and-mortar stores as live showrooms even as those shoppers clicked and shipped that product home, courtesy of Amazon.com. Beyond charging admission at the front door, how does a brick-and-mortar operator not lose when that happens?

Fortunately, not everyone has a tablet. At least not yet. Tablet penetration stands at about 19% of the U.S. population as of January 2012, according to Nielsen. But according to another report issued May 3, DisplaySearch forecasts tablet sales will outpace PC notebook sales by 2016.

Comparatively, 46% of Americans owned smartphones as of December 2011, according to Nielsen. And that larger number of smartphone owners actually may be making purchases in-store — with 42% working against a shopping list (indicating a planned trip) and 36% redeeming a moblie coupon.

So there is still time to react considering that less than half of tablet owners have actually purchased an item with their tablet (compared to 29% of smartphone owners). So now the opportunity becomes: How do you convert that tablet shopper from a retail purveyor to an in-store buyer?

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