When it comes to brick and mortar stores, misinformation runs rampant.

For instance, search results only send consumers to e-commerce sites, retailers lose the shopper who checks a phone in store, and buyers only visit stores to transact or showroom. Those are three common myths debunked in Digital’s Impact on In-Store Shopping1, new research conducted by Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands for Google, based upon purchasing behaviors of more than 6,000 smartphone shoppers.

Although 95% of all retail transactions still occur in-store2, smartphones have quickly become consumer’s favorite and most trusted “shopping assistant.” These handy devices reduce buyers’ remorse, raise consumer expectations for getting more accurate and faster information from store associates, and present new challenges for hungry retailers.

For instance:

  • 68% of shoppers surveyed said they were happier with store purchases when they did research online before buying, according to those surveyed 
  • 71% expect clerks to know or find product information more quickly now, due to smartphones 
  • 46% of smartphone shoppers browse the retailer’s own site or app in-store 

But when paired with a consistent shopping experience — specifically mobile optimized, locally relevant, and personalized search results — these same “shopping assistants” can become as powerful to sellers as they are to buyers, the research found.

In fact, they’ve helped double the value of in store visit,3 increase customer satisfaction (69% of consumers are more satisfied with purchases when they get to touch or feel a product in-store), and they’ve given retailers more opportunities to build brand loyalty (51% said they used digital devices to look for additional information after buying).

For instance, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores saw a 16% higher clickthrough rate and 122% increase in visits to its stores after adopting Local Inventory Ads, which lets retailers display nearby store inventory to online shoppers.4 “Local inventory ads fit perfectly into our strategy of using digital tools to drive store traffic,” says David Buckley, chief marketing officer at Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores. “If people are searching for a product on their phones, there is nothing more targeted than serving that item with a picture, description, and price while letting the customers know exactly how far they are located from the product.” 

The technology also helps Sears extend the reach of its advertising budget, driving $8 of in store sales for each dollar invested online.5 “When we compared our most recent performance of local inventory ads to offline media typically used to drive store sales, such as a recent broadcast television campaign,” Buckley explains, “local inventory ads returned in-store sales at more than 5X the rate of tv advertising for each dollar spent.6” 

Similarly, Staples saw their store visit and ad click thru rates increase by 33% and 29% respectively, after indicating nearby stock in their search listings.

“Local Inventory Ads are another way Staples helps customers shop whenever and however they want through our omnichannel,” said Ellen Comley, vice president, integrated media, Staples, Inc. “We know that more and more customers are doing research online before buying, and local inventory ads make it easier for us to reach small businesses and ensure we’re providing the most relevant offers.” 

Of course, those are just a few examples. In addition to identifying other ways smartphones are changing modern shopping, Digital’s Impact on In-Store Shopping outlines several steps retailers can take to optimize their online presence for smartphones:

5 things brick and mortar stores should do now 

  1. Use Local Inventory Ads to promote nearby stock to interested buyers, including availability of complementary and recommended products 
  2. Be sure to list store locations, hours, and phone numbers in online search ads 
  3. Optimize online presence for mobile viewing and buying, including search results, website, app, and mobile ads to engage consumers while in store 
  4. Localize and integrate custom offers and product recommendations to smartphone shoppers that disclose their location 
  5. Take an omni-channel approach to marketing and measurement by combining your online and physical efforts into one (see also: Macy’s Inc
There’s no denying that smartphone shoppers are looking at competing offers while in store, the research concludes. But a greater percentage of shoppers look to search engine results and a retailer’s own sites and apps first. To take advantage, retailers must acknowledge, react to, and consolidate their multi-channel approach into a “mobile first” omni-channel one.

Learn more about how top retailers are using digital to connect people with their stores here.

Posted by Emily Eberhard Pereira, Head of Shopping Solutions Marketing 


1Google/Ipsos MediaCT/Sterling Brands, Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping, October 2014 
2 eMarketer: Total US Retail Sales Top $4.5 Trillion in 2013, Outpace GDP Growth, April 2014 
3 Shoppertrak 2014 foot traffic and Mastercard SpendPulse transaction Data 2010 thru 2014 
4 AdWords Store Visits Data. 2015 
5 Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Data. 2015 
6 Sear’s Hometown and Outlet Stores Data. 2015