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Retail on the go

Woman holding cell phone and shopping bag

Smartphones have become such a part of our daily life that most of us can't imagine even a few hours without one. New research from UPS and comScore reveals that the rest of the world is just as attached to their mobile devices - and even more reliant on a smartphone when it comes to shopping.

To appreciate the growing popularity of smartphones, consider these numbers: There were more than 1 billion smartphones in use worldwide in the third quarter of 2014 and that figure is expected to double by the end of 2015.[1] From a retail perspective, mobile now accounts for 30% of global online sales, with Asia leading the pack. The growth is real - and the impact undeniable.

Mobile has proven to be the catalyst in fueling heightened omnichannel expectations in all aspects of the customer journey. Based on the fluid nature of today's "flex shopper," global consumers want to shift seamlessly from one channel to the next.

Even when today's shopper starts in the store or on their PCs or tablets, they often use the smartphone at some point of the transaction. With convenience always top of mind, mobile devices serve as the consumer's remote control.

A Mobile World. At the direction of UPS, comScore conducted an extensive survey of more than 19,000 online shoppers in 2014 across five markets: Asia, Europe, Brazil, Mexico and the United States. The second UPS Pulse of the Online ShopperTM global study sheds light on why mobile matters and on the mindset of the connected customer.

A world of stores is now at our fingertips. Online shoppers worldwide said 24% of their purchases were made with online retailers outside of their country. More than half - or 54% -- of American shoppers said they made purchases with global e-tailers. One-third of purchases from Brazil and Mexico are made on websites in other countries.

The New Norm. The research also shows cross-channel shopping is the new norm, with 43% of all purchases now occurring in combined store-and-online interactions. From researching products in advance of and during store visits to previewing retailer emails and searching for the best price, smartphones have become indispensable. Today's online shoppers consider selection, information, reputation and speed.

For time-pressed consumers, the smartphone is the savior from the beginning to the end of the shopping journey. The most common mobile activities include researching products and tracking deliveries.

The Price Tag. In a sign of just how price-conscious this new breed of flex shoppers is, the most common activity we found involved shoppers comparing prices on their mobile phones while in the store. That's the case with about half of consumers in Asia, Brazil and Mexico, and more than a third of consumers in the U.S. and Europe.

Brick and Mortar. Yet stores are still a part of the equation even for online purchases. Ship to store is seen as a convenient option among online shoppers in all regions, and return to store is preferred particularly in Brazil and Mexico. Consumers have become proficient in "browse and buy" behavior.

Early Adopters. The study also revealed Mexico and Brazil shoppers use smartphones at a higher rate than their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe. And, they are more engaged with social media sites and more likely to have their purchase influenced by social media.

Early adopters and those consumers passionate about devices are critical to growth in the mobile channel. When shoppers own three devices (e.g., smartphones, tablet or a desktop PC), the percentage of products purchased via mobile goes up.

In Asia, twice as many online shoppers made a purchase on their smartphone than in Europe. According to our study, Asia has the greatest percentage of consumers who actually purchase on multiple devices.

A Lasting Impact. Just as e-commerce emerged as a retail force in the late '90s, the mobile trend will have lasting impact on retailers. Understanding changing consumer behavior and embracing technology will define the future for retailers.

From interacting with store-front window displays to local geo-targeting, we have just begun to scratch the surface. Retailers can now communicate with customers in unprecedented ways as in-store mobile advancements and innovative experiments establish future selling standards.

But to seize on these opportunities, retailers will need to make significant investments in systems, inventory transparency, personnel, logistics and international reach. Digital experiences must evolve to accommodate this changing consumer behavior. Retail leaders have set a high bar for the online customer experience and the mobile mindset of shoppers is going to make its use a priority.

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