Shopping in the Digital Age: The Impact of Smartphones on Consumer Buying Behaviour

By Sam Iontton10/02/2023
Shopping in the Digital Age: The Impact of Smartphones on Consumer Buying Behaviour

The 21st century has seen many changes in the shopping industry, and most of it occurs online now largely due to convenience. However, many retail stores have millions of loyal customers who prefer to shop in-store.

According to a 2022 retail report by Appinio, 33% of shoppers in the UK still prefer brick and mortar stores over online shopping as they can interact with products and formulate their own opinions. Doesn’t sound like much? Well, despite more people preferring online shopping, Appinio’s retail report shows that 43% of UK consumers prefer an omnichannel shopping experience, and 56% of shoppers visit a store before making purchases online. So, focusing on your retail store and creating the perfect customer experience is vital to maximise conversions from in store shoppers.

However, people's shopping behaviour has also evolved whilst shopping in-store. Notably via the use of smartphones, & the evidence of these differences is only increasing. Looking at this graph from The Global Shopping Index we can see that between 2020 and 2021 mobile phone usage has increased by 6.8% globally:-

consumers smartphone usage while shopping in stores

Further stats from The Global Shopping Index show us that 42% of consumers across these nations used smartphones at least once during their recent shopping journey. - This is approximately 130 million consumers! This could be to pay for products in store using mobile wallets, compare retail prices online or when purchasing products online. Compared to the previous year, this means that 18% more consumers made use of their phones to aid their shopping experience.

And these stats are increasing! A more recent Airship report shows nearly two thirds of UK consumers who use their smartphones while shopping in-store will use retailers’ apps to merge digital and physical experiences, while 72% will use their phones to access loyalty cards or discount codes. View the full dataset below.

retailer apps statistics

Tapping into why consumers use their smartphones in physical stores and understanding how they do so can help you to boost your retail store and create a more satisfactory customer experience that will encourage people to keep on coming back.

Mobile Purchases Instore Increasing Across All Age Groups

A research report from Advisory Group in 2020, Lifestyle Commerce Drives Expanding Mobile Sales Channel For Merchants shows that not just the younger generation are constantly using their mobile phones in store. The data from this report has shown us that mobile purchases in-store grew across all age groups, including those aged 65+. See more of the data insights below:-

Mobile Purchases Instore Increasing Across All Age Groups

However, despite an increase in all ages using their smartphones while shopping in-store, it's actually Millennials that tend to use smart phones in store the most. This age group is using them for multiple purposes while shopping, including visiting the retailer’s website, using their app, accessing loyalty cards, coupons and payment wallets and comparing prices, among other uses.

This data below shows how the percentage of different generations that use their smartphones in store do so, including the in-store activities that they mostly use their smartphones for.

How Do UK Shoppers Use Their Smartphones While Shopping?

The increase in UK shoppers using their smartphones throughout their in-store shopping journey across all ages is proving that retailers have to step up their game to keep up with this adapting behaviour. The behaviour of consumers may seem ever-changing, but the way shoppers use their smartphones while in-store remains largely similar.

There are numerous ways UK shoppers will use their mobile devices whilst shopping. This varies between the time they take before, during, and after their shopping journey. Research completed by global tech company Criteo in 2022 has discovered that 49% of shoppers use their devices to compare the pricing of products and services while shopping in store and 40% use them to redeem coupons and discount codes that the retailer has offered them. You can see the rest of the data showing how shoppers use their smartphones while in-store below.

Problems Consumers Have When Attempting To Use Smartphones In Store

However, the increase of consumers using their smartphones while in-store has resulted in shoppers facing several issues throughout their shopping journey. According to last year’s Global Shopping Index Report, while attempting to shop in-store, some problems consumers have faced include:

Potentially, these problems that consumers are facing have caused a divide between the amount of shoppers using their phones while in-store in the UK and consumers in other countries.

Whether this surprising difference is due to the amount of shopping friction consumers are facing while shopping in-store, the lack of knowledge of smartphone-focused assistance that retailers provide consumers or a reduction in people shopping in store is unclear. However, what is clear is that less consumers in the UK are using their mobile devices during their shopping journey than other countries around the world. How can you change this in your retail store? We’ve got some tips below!

Why is the UK facing ‘Shopping Friction’ Compared to Other Countries?

Due to the statistics shown above, it has created what has been referred to as ‘shopping friction.’ This refers to how certain businesses are giving the UK the extra advantage of online features in-store compared to other countries. This is why more eCommerce shoppers need to start using the digital tools at their disposal to ease the convenience of their shopping experience. The same goes for retail businesses since the main goal to increase sales is by aiding the experience of the customers to retain loyalty.

To put this into perspective, customers in the UK face 11% more shopping friction than the average shopper in other countries, and this is generally caused by retailers failing to provide a selection of digital and cross-channel features to aid the experience of the shopper.

What Retailers Should Be Doing to Benefit from In-Store Smartphone Usage in 2023

It is time to narrow the focus on why technology integration is necessary for business growth. After all, it is imperative to always stay up to date with the times, and many brand and retail stores need to ensure this by integrating mobile devices, in at least one form, into their business. More and more people are getting tech-friendly every day, and despite the statistics being relatively low, such as 35% of British consumers using their smartphones during their retail journey, especially to pay via an app or mobile wallet; this will drastically increase within the next five years, especially with the growth of digital wallets.

So, being aware of how your customers will make use of their smartphones both before visiting your store and while they are shopping there will help you utilise smartphones to your advantage. Understanding how consumers use their smartphones is vital knowledge to retail owners, as you can use these insights to influence future changes to your store. Here are some vital ways that in-store shoppers use their smartphones before even visiting your store.

We’ve already looked through the most common ways consumers can use their smartphones while shopping in-store. That data shows that almost 50% of consumers use their smartphones to compare prices, which is the most common use of smartphones while shopping in-store. However, there are several other ways that consumers will use smartphones in-store. Again, being aware of the smartphone habits of your consumers will help you to optimise your store so your customers can use these services quickly and easily for a trouble-free shopping journey. Here are the vital ways consumers may use their smartphones while shopping in store.

As a retailer, ignoring the mounting data of how shoppers use their smartphones in-store will be detrimental. For example, did you know that at least 59% of other retail merchants support their customers to use mobile devices in their stores? Additionally, this same percentage allows their customers to have profiles across several digital platforms, meaning they can be integrated across several businesses. This hybrid form of shopping is growing evermore popular, and it would be a failed opportunity if you do not take this form of approach for your business too.

Even though 56% of shoppers that only shop in brick-and-mortar feel satisfied with their experience without using mobile devices, this is still a high percentage, and the percentage of retailers that allow their customers to use mobile devices is only likely to increase, whereas those that don’t, will inevitably go down within the next five years. So, here are some changes you can implement in your retail store to make the shopping journey for in-store consumers easier, faster and more smartphone-friendly.




Consumers using smartphones while shopping in-store has certainly come on in leaps and bounds in the past few years, and it can only get better. Your customers will continue to use their smartphones to assist their in-store shopping journeys. After all, approximately 130 consumers worldwide used their smartphones at least once last year alone! And you can use this data to make the in-store shopping journey better for your consumers. Remember how UK shoppers use their mobile phones while shopping in physical stores - comparing prices (49%), redeeming coupons (40%) and getting more information about a product (30%) are the most popular uses - and optimise your retail store’s online presence and services to accommodate these needs.

Although the future is not fixed, it’s almost certain that smartphones will only continue to grow in usage and importance while shopping in-store. Whether this is through interactive maps to help customers find their way around the store or perhaps even ways for consumers to get their shopping on their phones while in the physical store, it’s important that you don’t get left behind as a retailer. Remaining on top of ever changing mobile phone trends will ensure that you stay ahead of the game and create a shopping journey that benefits both your customers and your retail store.

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