If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, leave your mobile phone at home when you go shopping. (Photo: Shutterstock, NTB Scanpix)

Why you shouldn’t bring your mobile device shopping

If you want to save money after your holiday, leave your mobile phone at home when shopping. Consumers who used their phones in the grocery store ended up with fuller shopping carts.

If you tend to walk around with your nose in your cell phone, you may be at risk for more than a mere stumble or collision.

A recently published study in the Journal of Marketing shows that mobile use can also distract consumers when they are out shopping. Busy multi-taskers who talk, surf or text while walking around the store and picking out goods often end up with more items at the register.

Mixed results

Then you spend more than you planned to. This result is contrary to previous research, which has shown that consumers who use their mobile devices for relevant tasks – like checking prices – make fewer impulse purchases.

However, other studies suggest that people who check the news or social media when shopping purchase more than they intended to.

That is, up to now we haven’t known what net effect mobile use really has on people’s shopping trips.

Eye tracking and receipts

This question led researchers at the Stockholm School of Economics and the University of Tennessee to design two studies involving more than 400 consumers at six grocery stores.

The researchers monitored the participants on their way through the store in multiple ways. They used video, had customers wear eye-tracking glasses to capture where they directed their gaze, and checked receipts afterwards.

This enabled researchers to check which consumers had used their mobile phones while shopping, how much they purchased and how long they spent in the store.

Looked at more items

The results of both studies were clear. The analyses revealed that cell phone usage noticeably increased purchases.

Customers’ ability to concentrate on the main task – selecting the items they needed – was impaired when they simultaneously used their phone, according to the researchers.

Participants who were distracted by cell phone use slowed down or stopped temporarily on their way through the store. This made them more aware of goods and signs on the shelves that they wouldn’t otherwise have noticed, which led to more impulse purchases.

Customers who used their cell phones were also more likely to deviate from the fastest route through the store to get their planned purchases.

They also spent more time shopping, making them more inclined to buy more.

Younger shoppers more focused

The amount of time they spent on their mobile device didn’t matter.

Although consumers used their devices for just under a minute on average, they lost their focus on groceries more often than shoppers who didn’t use their phones at all.

Adults who were 32 years old and up tended to lose their concentration more and shopped more impulsively. Younger shoppers seemed better able to maintain their focus.

And even though mobile phone users ended up paying more, they were no less pleased with their purchases than shoppers who only bought what they had planned on.

Profitable for merchants

The findings in these studies indicate that shop owners benefit when consumers use their mobile phones while they shop – especially since these customers aren’t any less satisfied about spending more money.

If retailers are tempted to enable more mobile use in the store to increase sales, there’s only one important condition: mobile usage shouldn’t be related to customer shopping.

According to these experiments, only mobile use that is not connected to the actual shopping leads to increased impulse purchases.

Targeted promotional campaigns where the consumer needs to use the mobile device may be valuable in themselves, but not to increase overall sales.

Instead, researchers recommend that retailers offer free Wi-Fi and charging stations.

Shopping with friends also more expensive

Other things that distract attention from the actual shopping list have the same effect. Like bringing another person along on a shopping trip, according to other research.

Entertainment or contests can also cause consumers to lose focus and buy more items.

Consumers who want to avoid impulse purchases should be aware that it’s a good idea to leave their mobile device at home or in the car, or just not use it.

Study method

In both studies, customers received a pair of eye-tracking eyeglasses. These glasses measured how long the participants were in the store, what signs and shelves they looked at and how often they veered off their planned route inside the store.

In the first study, the researchers used video to determine whether customers used their mobile phones.

In the second study, consumers were divided into two groups. One group was asked to use their mobile devices while shopping, and the other group was asked not to.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

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