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Apps more popular for shopping with consumers than catalogues as mobile starts to prove itself, finds joint eDigital Research and Portaltech study

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Consumers are using mobile apps and m-websites more than catalogues to browse and buy retail items, as well as rating mobile higher than their papery counterparts, finds a study by e and m-commerce implementation consultancy Portaltech and research company eDigital Research and published today here.

According to the wide ranging research into the habits and views of both smartphone and non-smartphone users across the UK, 25% of those surveyed use mobile to research, browse and buy goods on a weekly basis, compared with just 16% who said they did the same with catalogues. The study also finds that, on average across 20 key brands surveyed, 2.55% of shoppers have purchased using an app or an m-website in the past 12 months, compared with 2.27% using catalogues.

“The result is very surprising,” says Rachel Wilkinson, head of brand and retail at Portaltech. “Many retailers are typically spending huge amounts on producing and mailing catalogues, as well as handling orders from them, while more people are actually looking to browse and buy through apps and m-web.

“This is especially interesting when the biggest hurdle to investing in mobile cited by most retailers is that it doesn’t offer a clear ROI path,” Wilkinson continues. “But what we are telling retailers, based on our research, is that they shouldn’t be looking for ROI in terms of sales through the mobile channel, but looking more at how mobile increases sales across all channels.”

This is backed up by other findings in the extensive survey, which also reveal that a third of consumers have used their mobile to browse retail websites, a similar number have used their mobile to find product information, some 20% have used their mobiles to purchase products and 20% have used their mobiles to compare pricing in a store, or when on the high street.

“This proves that mobile is the glue that holds multichannel together,” says Wilkinson’s colleague, Portaltech sales director Mark Adams. “Our research shows that already, 45% of consumers are browsing and researching retail online, while 30% actually do their shopping via mobile.”

The top performing retailer on mobile in the UK was found to be Boots, logging 3.66% of consumers in the past 12 months. Behind it in mobile come Miss Selfridge and Zara on 2% and Ocado, Superdrug and All Saints on 1.83%. In fact Boots comes out of the survey as the best performing on average across all channels, doing 76.87 and 20.8% respectively in store and online. Behind it in the multichannel stakes are M&S, Next and Topshop.

So what are people buying typically with mobile? The study finds that the CDs, books, clothing, digital downloads, gifts, apps, tickets and films are the key products that consumers are buying today through their mobiles, with 20% of smartphone users expecting their purchasing to increase in the coming 12 months.

On the payment side of things, the study finds that PayPal is by far the most popular payment tool, with 42% of consumers saying it is their favoured payment mechanism, followed by 32% using debit card, 27% credit card and just 5% using premium rate SMS. In fact, the study also reveals that a staggering 86% of people in the UK have a PayPal account and 8% of those without one want one – that’s a whopping 94% of people, or statistically everyone. Worth bearing in mind, when designing your mobile strategy.

Also worth bearing in mind when designing your mobile strategy is the confusion and contradictions in consumers’ minds about apps and mobile web (and the ‘traditional’ web, come to that). 43% of consumers express no preference for apps or m-web, but of the 23% that prefer m-web and 34% that prefer apps, strong opinions about what works best are expressed.

Those that like apps cite their ease of use, speed and flexible functionality as key to their appeal, while m-web fans suggest that the phone browser is a better way to access what you are looking for and you don’t need to clog up your phone with loads of apps. Of those that do use mobile shopping apps, Tesco, Amazon, eBay and Argos are currently the most widely held and used, finds the study.

Chris Russell, Director of eDigitalResearch concludes: “It is important for retailers and brands to understand the pivotal change in consumer behaviour that is afoot and start implementing strategies and technology to make their brand accessible to mobile users. With the recent advancement in mobile technology, m-commerce is beginning to emerge as an imperative and vital factor in the multi channel mix.”

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