November 28, 2011

Are Mobile Consumers Better Informed than Salespeople?

By Michael de Souza, VP Media

An editor of Harvard Magazine recently wrote about consumers who are taking on (willingly or not) the roles of petrol attendants, check out clerks and sales assistants. Go to a supermarket in the US, and you're likely to scan your own purchase. Drive into a petrol station, pump your own gasoline and squeegee the windshield yourself.

“The robots have won,” writes Craig Lambert. “Although the automatons were supposedly going to free people by taking on life’s menial, repetitive tasks, frequently, technological innovation actually offloads such jobs onto human beings."

It's not all bad news, though. When it comes to purchase decisions, consumers are winning. The average shopper has become adept at product research - checking product information and comparing prices on the spot.  Even in situations where a salesperson is available, consumers have a bigger view that includes options in other stores and online.

The self-service phenomenon may be charmless, but in this case, mobile technology is empowering consumers with information . . . and offering new opportunities to retailers and publishers.

The Facts
A survey of BuzzCity users shows that more than 40% of mobile consumers use their phones to check out prices or product information. You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that about half of the consumers we polled in the US, UK and France are using their phones this way. But the percentage is even higher in Indonesia and Nigeria. And even in places like Egypt, Malaysia and Mexico, consumers who are not yet transacting on mobile are already using their phones to look up technical specs, read consumer forums & expert reviews and compare prices. Consumers are becoming better informed and educated than the salespeople . . . and they have their phones to thank.

Consumer Reviews

GameSpot is a great platform for reviews and really anything to do with games. As you might expect, the audience is primarily male (97% men according to the company). Gamespot's mobile portal is customised by region and searchable by platform. There are also some tongue-in-cheek video promos.

Where's the mobile version?
Yet there are still a number of online consumer platforms that have yet to go mobile. Some examples include (digital cameras), Hardware Zone (PCs) and GSMArena (how ironic, yah!).

These companies are simply missing out by not building a mobile presence. There's a great opportunity here for them . . . or their competitors.

Think Local
Product availability and pricing can vary remarkably between countries. The camera that’s cheapest in New York might be the most expensive one in Seoul and completely unavailable in Helsinki. So although consumers may continue to check out international sites, there’s a community of shoppers in just about every region who are ready to compare their findings and eager to connect with others who are making purchase decisions.

Producing content in local languages is also sure to increase readership in many markets.

Opportunities for Retailers
Finally, you don't have to be an online portal to reach out to consumers using mobile. Take the example of B & H, a New York based photo, video and pro audio store. Each product and category on the company's site has in-depth reviews, expert guides and user comments. Customers are encouraged to post reviews, Amazon-style, and can rate each other’s posts.

B & H's site transforms the company into more than a retailer; it becomes an authority, with guides and tips on everything from studio lighting to photographing seascapes and weddings.

So, if you're a retailer or publisher, it's time to think about about how you can engage these mobile consumers . . . by creating forums where they can compare information, check out prices, read reviews . . . and perhaps even make a purchase from their phone.