How do consumers use their smartphones while shopping? A new Nielson study says mobile commerce now has lots to do with where consumers are shopping and what they’re shopping for. The research puts hard numbers on how in-store consumer smartphone use – comparing prices, scanning barcodes, redeeming coupons – differs depending on what consumers are buying. To breakdown broad trends in the data:

  • Grocery stores: Mobile coupons are most popular at grocery stores. Four in ten shoppers (41 percent) use coupons here; 14 percent read reviews; 26 percent scan QR codes.
  • Department stores: Also high coupon use (41 percent). About the same fraction (43 percent) read reviews; 36 percent scan QR codes.
  • Clothing stores: 39 percent use coupons; 21 percent read reviews; 16 percent scan QR codes.
  • Electronics stores: High use of devices (no surprise!). The majority read reviews (73 percent), compare prices (71 percent) and scan QR codes (57 percent).
  • Convenience stores and dollar stores: Limited use of coupons, reviews or codes (average of less than 8-2 percent).

The higher the purchase price (or, as Nielson puts it, “the more considered the purchase”), the more likely it is that users will use their phones to shop around. So, it makes sense that tech-savvy electronics shoppers happily scan QR codes for those flat screen TVs or other expensive gadgets. But as for those shopping for furniture (another big ticket item) only 19 percent read reviews, and a paltry 5 percent scan a QR code. Perhaps this shows that high-tech marketing efforts have yet to make inroads in the furniture manufacturing industry – or maybe, as with clothing (another personal item), shoppers are more likely to fall in love with their choices and less likely to consult their phones for the best prices?

In any case, these latest Nielsen results suggest that some mobile strategies just aren’t worthwhile in certain settings (at least, not yet). Perhaps most notably, QR codes aren’t popular in convenience stores (8 percent) and dollar stores (2 percent). A word to the wise: Before you invest in a QR code campaign (or any mobile campaign, for that matter), research your audience carefully. What percentage of your audience is mobile? How does this mobile segment typically interact with your messaging? There are several pixel-based tracking services that can help you measure audience segmentation, types of devices, response activity, geographic data and other information.

While I’m not surprised to see minimal use of certain smartphone technologies at dollar stores, convenience stores and office supply stores (no one really expects consumers will comparison shop for candy bars and staples), it’s worth noting that at big box stores such as Costco and Walmart, 34 percent of shoppers are reading online reviews, and 31 percent are scanning QR codes. So, if you’re selling there, or for a grocer, where using or requesting a coupon on a smartphone is highest, consider delivering location-based real time coupon offers to shoppers when they enter your store.

Where are smartphone users reading online reviews? The research shows that besides electronic stores (73 percent), other popular places to read reviews while shopping were department stores (43 percent) and mass merchandisers (34 percent). Thus, retail store marketers should make sure brand product information ranks high in search engines and again, be sure to use analytic and tracking tools to monitor how users engage with the reviews, and so you can determine what’s working (or not).

Of course, smartphones aren’t the only personal shopping assistant consumers are brandishing these days. According to another recent Nielsen survey, tablet owners also use their mobile devices for shopping-related activities. Smartphones are used for on-the-go purposes such as locating a store (73 percent) or using a shopping list (42 percent,) while tablet owners are more likely to use their devices for online shopping (42 percent).

Phew! So many numbers, so little time. Here’s what you really need to know: (1) Research shows it’s becoming increasingly important to align your mobile strategy with your product. (2) Marketers need to shift their approach and start integrating this channel to respond to the growing influence of mobile devices on consumer behavior.