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Smartphones Tame Black Friday Shopping Frenzy

Nov 28, 2015

This week, an increasing number of consumers are going online to take advantage of Black Friday deals.

Sales for what's known as one of the biggest shopping days of the year were up 20 percent this year, and most of those online shoppers were using smartphone apps.

If you want to get a glimpse of just how difficult it is out here for retailers, just ask 11-year-old Ava Bassarat, who's on a mission to buy an iPod Touch.

"I'm one of the only people in my grade that doesn't have an iPod, which really makes me feel bad because all my friends are probably texting each other right now, without me," Bassarat says.

She says the only reason she made her mother bring her to the store was to get a specific deal.

"Because I want to have money leftover when I buy my iPod," she says.

Surveys are showing that consumers are demanding discounts and are willing to wait for them.

Hannah Egan with IBM says the ability to research is changing the way we shop, and stores are starting to realize.

"What they need to think about and remember is that when consumers are waiting in line outside their store, they have their mobile phones with them," she says.

Egan says people are getting used to the fact that their phones are getting more shopping-friendly and big retailers have spent billions beefing up their online presence.

"We've seen pretty much every maker of a smartphone come out and make a larger screen this year and that enables easier shopping," she adds.

That doesn't mean shoppers aren't coming out for the experience. Kris Gaines says she mainly came to work off the turkey and champagne from the holiday.

"You kind of wanna go out, you kind of wanna see what there is to buy and, I mean, I went to Nordstrom, everything was gift-wrapped so, you know, done deal" Gaines says. "But online I would say shopping for myself — probably about 90 percent."

But when it comes time to buy, Gaines says most of those purchases are likely to be done on her phone. Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research, points out that Target, Amazon and Wal-Mart have poured billions in to their mobile business.

"The big challenge is to make money off of mobile because there is a ton of traffic coming from mobile devices. but what we call mobile conversion rates, the percent of people that actually buy after going to a mobile site is pretty low," Mulpuru says.

A part of the frenzy for stores to get mobile and to beef up their online supply chain is the competition led by Amazon. A recent survey showed that nearly a quarter of households have Amazon Prime accounts, which among other perks offers free shipping and often lower prices.

"That's why they've got all the business — it's not magic," says retail analyst Howard Davidowitz, who says that in many ways the move toward mobile is a play to keep up with Amazon.

"Amazon is eating their lunch, Amazon's killing everybody so there is no way not to invest in this business because of the performance of Amazon, who's gaining market share across the board," Davidowitz says.

Let the holiday shopping season — and the era of mobile retail — begin.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Black Friday shopping was reportedly a little less frenetic and crowded this year. Many people stayed home to shop online. And some of those who did show up at, you know, stores, as they're called, used their phones to try to get the best deals while they stood in line. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on how the smartphone is taking some of the frenzy out of Black Friday.

SONARI GLINTON: If you want to get a glimpse of just how hard it is out here for retailers, just ask Ava Bassarat. She's a shopper with a mission. She has a very specific reason for buying an iPod touch.

AVA BASSARAT: I'm one of the only people in my grade that doesn't have an iPod, which really makes me feel bad 'cause all my friends are probably texting each other right now.

GLINTON: Bassarat, who's 11, says the only reason she made her mother bring her to the store was to get a very specific deal.

AVA: 'Cause I want to have money leftover when I buy my iPod.

GLINTON: Every dollar counts now 'cause you've been saving your money?

AVA: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She's a smart shopper. She wants money in her wallet after she's bought the iPod. She doesn't want to spend it all.

AVA: So I have, like, $100 more than what I need to buy. So I have $100 left in my wallet.

GLINTON: Surveys show that consumers are demanding discounts and are willing to wait for them. Hannah Egan with IBM says the ability to research is changing the way we shop, which stores are starting to realize.

HANNAH EGAN: What they need to think about and remember is that when consumers are waiting in line outside their store, they have their mobile phones with them.

GLINTON: Egan says big retailers have spent billions beefing up their online presence. Online sales are growing, largely due to mobile. Egan says people are getting used to their phones and their phones are getting more shopper-friendly.

EGAN: I mean, we've seen pretty much every maker of a smartphone come out and make a larger screen this year. And that enables easier shopping, whether it's removing that whole pinching - the pinching of the screen - just an easier interface comes with that larger screen.

GLINTON: That doesn't mean that shoppers aren't coming out for the experience. Kris Gaines says she's mainly come to work off the turkey and champagne from the holiday.

KRIS GAINES: You kind of want to go out. You kind of want to see what there is to buy. And, I mean, I went to Nordstrom's. Everything was gift-wrapped. So, you know, done deal. But online, I would say shopping - especially for myself - probably about 90 percent.

GLINTON: But when it comes time to buy, Gaines says most of those purchases are likely to be done on her phone. Sucharita Mulpuru is an analyst with Forrester Research. She points out that Target, Amazon and Wal-Mart have poured billions into their mobile business.

SUCHARITA MULPURU: The big challenge is to make money off of mobile because there is a ton of traffic coming from mobile devices. But what we call mobile conversion rates, the percent of people that actually buy after going to a mobile site, is pretty low.

GLINTON: A big part of the frenzy for stores to get mobile and to beef up their online supply chain, I got one word for you - Amazon. A recent survey showed that nearly a quarter of households have Amazon Prime accounts, which, among other perks, offer free shipping and often lower prices.

HOWARD DAVIDOWITZ: That's why they've got all the business. It's not magic.

GLINTON: Howard Davidowitz is a retail analyst. He says in many ways, the move towards mobile is a play to keep up with Amazon.

DAVIDOWITZ: Amazon is eating their lunch. Amazon's killing everybody. So there is no way not to invest in this business because of the performance of Amazon, who's gaining market share across the board.

GLINTON: Let the holiday shopping season and the era of mobile retail begin. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.