Mobile Shopping, Geotargets, and Smartphones Changing How We Buy

Here’s a scene that was doubtlessly played out millions of times this past Thanksgiving weekend, either during dinner or a lazy, post-prandial stupor. A group of people are idly thumbing through their smartphones or tablets, looking at what to buy for someone or (more likely) what they want. Taking the unselfish route, the silence is broken by someone exclaiming that they have found the perfect gift for Aunt Julia – a Santa Robot that sings musical standards from the 1930s! It’s agreed this is perfect, which says a lot about Aunt Julia.

Within seconds, everyone has seen it, either from the phone being passed around or links being instantly swapped. The present is bought, with a minimum of fuss. If this seems very realistic to you, it’s because this is the year when shopping on mobile devices has caught up with laptops – making shopping anywhere at any time a possibility. This mobile shopping, combined with the personalization of geotargeting, is changing the season, and the rest of the year.

Mobile shopping
Mobile shopping might mean you won’t need these anymore- or it might help you use them in a smarter way.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Mobile Shopping: Great for consumers and retailers

Mobile shopping has been a huge boon for people who either produce or consume (which is a fancy way of saying: everyone). It keeps growing, as well. Last year on Thanksgiving, 21% of cyber sales were from mobile devices; this year it is expected to reach 31%. Black Friday and Cyber Monday were expected to reach similar rates of growth (as of this writing, we don’t have final numbers, just informed speculation).

Now, in some ways, you can argue that it doesn’t matter: it is just shifting around the way you purchase, not what you purchase (although it is possible that shopping on a phone might make you desire the hottest phones and tablets and change your desire level a bit). But I think it does make a difference, because shopping is equal parts psychology and information, and those usually are in conflict. The phone aids both sides, but ultimately, it helps with information.

What I mean is that the benefit of mobile shopping is that while you can be home, you don’t have to be. If you are in a store, you might see an item you like. Stores are very clever, and have big signs reading “Clearance” or “Huge Sale!” or “Buy this or no one will ever be your friend!” This tricks you into thinking that you absolutely have to get it right now, because if not, you might regret it. Forever.

If you have your smartphone, though, you can immediately look up information. You can see that the store across town has an even better deal. You can see that really, no one is wearing this, or that it is really the worst hammer on the market. Suddenly, the frenzy of shopping (and don’t doubt that big crowds in stores encourage not just a mob mentality, but a sense of fierce competitiveness) can be tempered by the immediacy of information. Mobile shopping isn’t just a tool for the couch-bound; any laptop can do that. It is a way for someone in a store to make a better decision.

Personalized Geotargeting

All that above makes it sound like mobile shopping is terrible for retailers, because their normal tricks and psychological manipulations don’t work. To an extent, that is true, but stores have to compete. Mobile tech forces them to compete more on the level, that’s all.

It also gives them some advantages, the most important of which is probably geotargeting. Geotargeting, for these admittedly narrow purposes, is the ability for a store to keep track of its customers and know when they are close. This isn’t as creepy as it sounds. You have to sign up for it, and you do so because you want information.

So say you once bought a Louis Jourdan doll for your Aunt Julia at the Unusual Celebrity Re-Creation store. They ask if you want to sign up for announcements, and want to be able to use your location. You do. And, when out shopping for presents, you get near their store. This triggers an announcement, specifically geared toward you because of your previous purchase. You’ve forgotten about the store, but you suddenly get a text message saying they are having a sale on a singing Maurice Chevalier puppet. That’s another name you can cross off your list.

Of course, it isn’t always that personalized. You may just get a general announcement of sales once you walk into their “net.” This aids in the psychology of shopping. You feel an immediate pull and a strange sensation that you kind of have to go there. After all, it is right there. It’s very smart on the part of stores, and honestly, not that devious. It’s better than receiving notices at all hours. It works for both sides to just receive them when it is convenient. Don’t forget, too, that you have the information to resist.

We’ll get into safety and security in Thursday’s article, but leaving that aside, there is little doubt that mobile has changed the way we shop, for a number of reasons. The busiest shopping weekend of the year may be over, but the holiday season is just getting started. Even when the last strand of tinsel has been removed from the carpet, mobile shopping will continue to have an impact on our most simple transactions.


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