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Showrooming 2.0: being alert to the changing way we shop

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There is no shortage of experts telling us that the way people shop is changing, but for all the talk of how mobile is the real driver for this change, the real impetus is coming from good old bargain hunting. Mobile is just, in the parlance of all things naughty, ‘an enabler’.

Of course more traffic to websites now comes from mobile devices – up to 64% of visits to retail sites according to SimilarWeb – that’s because it is easy and convenient. There is also a growing use of apps for retail, with a fifth of retailers now seeing up to half of sales coming through apps. Again, there is the mobile convenience factor and growing familiarity with using mobile to buy.

But what many of these stats and surveys hide is that there is another reason that mobile is driving e-commerce: bargains.

The use of mobile as the most personal of shopping devices is nothing new but there is a growing move towards third party apps and services that utilise the location and personal nature of the phone – plus its ability to vibrate, ding, and get your attention – to help consumers finds bargains.

In fact, in many ways we are seeing the advent of ‘showrooming 2.0’. While many people are standing in stores with their phone checking out whether or not they can get the goods they are looking at cheaper elsewhere, there is a growing move from third party developers to start to make that easier still: by letting the phone track the things the shopper wants to buy and then alert them when its price drops or there is the whiff of a bargain in the air.

As we reported last month, January saw the launch of a new app called Yellowbag that will collect all of my favourite products and shops into one app and when the price of one of my desired products drops, I get a notification.

This week we have seen the launch of SaveAsYou, an app that aims to let shoppers in participating shopping centres monitor the goods they want and get an alert when there is a deal on that or similar items.

And online, a new website that notifies users when a product they’re interested in has dropped in price has also gone live. is the first of its kind in the UK and tracks more than 250 high street an online stores, including Amazon and Tesco.

What these three things – and they are just the early versions of a raft of similar services to come – mean for retail is quite important. They are all going to help drive customers and footfall, but they are also part of the worrying move towards everything being sold at a discount always. These three apps can all help shoppers find what they want at the price they want to pay, but as we have seen with other discount festivals such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the economics of selling things cheap can’t stack up as a long term strategy.

The real problem retailers have is that these bargain notification apps are all third party ones so the retailers themselves have little or no control over them, and it won’t be long before there are many of these services vying to get the shopper’s customer.

The only hope is that it goes the same way as the couponing world from a few years back. This to threatened to up end retailer on the back of raft of cheap offers and coupons, but that has largely now run out of steam. Many argue it was symptomatic of the recession and that probably played a part, but with tumbling oil prices and China’s growth slowing, we are already standing on shakey ground. This time round, should the world’s economy collapse again, expect your sales to be driven by mobile – but not necessarily in a good way.

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