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TMCNet:  Tap. Compare. Shop. [Virginian - Pilot]

[December 08, 2013]

Tap. Compare. Shop. [Virginian - Pilot]

(Virginian - Pilot Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) You probably do it all the time. ? You've pulled out your iPad or smartphone while in a store to check the price of the same product sold by another retailer. Or you've used your phone to look at product reviews, or to call someone to discuss the purchase. And maybe those reviews or discussions persuaded you to buy or not to buy that item. ? It's undeniable that mobile technology has changed and increasingly influences the way we shop. ? In a Gallup poll conducted last month, 40 percent of shoppers said they had "showroomed," or visited a store intending to gather information and then made the purchase online, often to save money.


Retailers have grown more and more tolerant of phone-shopping in their stores. Philip Scotti, owner of five Philip Michael Fashion for Men stores, said he saw showrooming drop off this year since he began emphasizing his competitive prices to customers. Through advertising and dialogue with shoppers when they come in, Philip Michael pledges better deals than its rivals on suits, sport coats, sweaters, dress shirts and neckties.

"We endorse the comparisons," Scotti said last week, pausing to help fit a young man in a bright-red blazer tagged at $79.99, plus 10 percent off during a holiday special.

"We say, 'No gimmicks.' We have 45 to 50 percent off our prices from department stores." Shoppers who make purchases on their tablets or smartphones represent a small portion of overall retail spending, but it's a growing group.

PayPal, a unit of online auction operator eBay that processes electronic transactions, reported that the number of mobile payments across the globe on Thanksgiving Day increased almost 115 percent compared with Thanksgiving 2012. Purchases on mobile devices jumped 124 percent between 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, compared with the same time last year, PayPal said its data showed.

And mobile sales accounted for more than 17 percent of all online purchases this year on Dec. 2, or Cyber Monday, named for the heavy Internet shopping day following Thanksgiving weekend, according to an IBM Holiday Benchmark Report released last week. The percentage of mobile purchases climbed 55.4 percent from the prior year, IBM reported using its Digital Analytics tool for real-time retail shopping data.

Some brick-and-mortar retailers use their own mobile apps to offer personalized coupons to customers while they're in the stores. Retailers boosted their "push" promotions to shoppers - notifying them of sales and deals on their mobile devices - by 77 percent between Thanksgiving and the following Monday, compared with daily averages over the past two months, according to IBM's report.

Many retailers now see mobile technology as a valuable tool, said John Talbott, an Indiana University marketing professor who specializes in retail research. They're willing to use all channels to reach customers and are working on new technology that lets them offer discounts specific to a customer's location in a store or product preferences.

"Traditional retailers are figuring this out," Talbott said. "They're completely device-agnostic." At the Ulta beauty products store near Town Center in Virginia Beach, Shanique Nunez came across the same set of Eco Tools bamboo makeup brushes that she had seen previously at a Wal-Mart store.

Nunez, of Norfolk, took out her iPhone 5 and went to Wal-Mart's website. Wal-Mart sold them for a couple of dollars less than the $17.99 price at Ulta.

The 23-year-old often uses her phone to check prices, she said. "Just to save a buck, it doesn't hurt." She ended up buying the Eco Tools set at Ulta, because she wanted to support the store and the price difference wasn't much, she said.

At Toys R Us near Chesapeake Square mall, Beverly Adkins had her phone to her ear Monday afternoon as she opened the door of a Minnie Mouse pink Volkswagen Beetle ride-on car, with eyelashes over the headlights, and studied the interior.

"It looks kind of small," she said, then listened to her daughter on the other end. "Well, which one do you want me to get? Should I get her the car, the Minnie Mouse car? You think she'll like it?" After some additional phone consultation, Adkins chose a Giddy Up 'N' Go Pony in the lavender color for her 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. It cost $99.99, less than the $169.99 Beetle.

"I couldn't decide which item to buy," said Adkins, 57, who lives in Chesapeake. "I was going to call her when I got to the store." It's a luxury she wouldn't have enjoyed without her cellphone, she acknowledged. "I would have had to go to a pay phone, I guess - like old times." At Dillard's department store in MacArthur Center, a blue floral Vera Bradley duffel bag beckoned to Jonathan Williams. A short while earlier on Tuesday, at another store that carried Vera Bradley in the downtown Norfolk mall, he checked Google for prices for a similar bag on his iPhone 5.

He knew the Dillard's price was fair. At $85, it cost less than the $90 bag his girlfriend carried before it broke in the airport, Williams said. And he saved the shipping charge by buying the bag in the store.

With the Vera Bradley duffel in hand, he strode to Dillard's shoe department to solicit help with a pair of Ugg boots. On his phone, he called to check his girlfriend's size.

"She said black or gray. I'm pretty sure she said either one," Williams, 22, told the saleswoman.

The Chesapeake resident had Googled prices on the Uggs, as well, he said. "I was trying to know exactly what I was going after and how much it'd be before I got it." The phone was less successful that day at locating an available PS4 PlayStation video game system, he said. "I'm looking all over the place to find one." At Bed Bath & Beyond near Town Center in Virginia Beach, Lisa Boissonneault stopped Tuesday evening to check prices on trash cans. She recently moved to Hampton Roads and needed one.

Considering the automatic-opening versions and those that operate manually, she consulted her BlackBerry Q10 to check prices. "I just looked up Simply Human, the brand, to see what came up," said Boissonneault, who had just left work and was still wearing her Starbucks Coffee uniform.

Target carried the cans she liked for about the same price, she found.

"When I'm shopping, I compare prices," she said. "I'm looking for the same product, if I can find it someplace else cheaper." Boissonneault, 47, decided she would buy the trash can at Bed Bath & Beyond and take advantage of that store's extra 20 percent discount, but she couldn't pull up the coupon on her phone. At stores such as Yankee Candle, she'll use her phone to get coupons when she sees a sale, she said.

For the trash can, she would have to go to her home in Virginia Beach and print out the coupon from her computer. So she left Bed Bath & Beyond with only a bag of bath salts.

At Best Buy that same evening, Jermaine McClees stood in front of a bank of flat-screen television sets. A salesman was extolling the virtues of Best Buy's various options.

McClees, 37, held his Samsung Galaxy S3 in his hand, sending a text message. Earlier, he had pulled up CNet reviews of TV sets to match the models and prices with those on the Best Buy wall.

The Newport News resident knew he wanted a 32-inch TV for his bedroom and a 46- to 50-inch set for his living room. But he hoped to find those for a discounted "open box" price, which Best Buy offers on items that customers have opened and returned.

For an "open box" deal, McClees had to visit Best Buy in person to see the stock. The Independence Boulevard store was his fourth stop, he said.

CNet priced the Panasonic plasma TV he liked at $999. If he could get an open box for $799, he said, "I know I've got a good deal." Carolyn Shapiro, 757-446-2270, carolyn.shapiro@pilotonline.com " reality check Retailers know you're shopping around for better prices on your smartphones while you're in their stores, and a few of them will let you get those lower prices if you find them.

Toys R Us expanded its "price match guarantee" to include products found at lower cost from "selected" online retailers. Customers who find identical items cheaper at websites including Walmart.com, Target.com, Sears.com, buybuybaby.com, Babydepot.com and Amazon.com can bring them up on their phones at the Toys R Us checkout and receive the matched price, said Katie Reczek, a Toys R Us spokeswoman.

Best Buy has a list of "designated major online retailers" whose prices it will match on identical products sold in its stores, allowing customers to find them on their mobile phones.

Wal-Mart's "Ad Match Guarantee" does not cover Internet pricing, but the discounter will honor an in-store ad from a local competitor if shoppers show it on their smartphones.

- Carolyn Shapiro (c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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