Distracted Shopping: In-Store Phone Use Linked to Increased Purchases

October 10, 2018

Up until now, the take-away for grocery retailers regarding the use of mobile phones in their stores has been bleak, with most evidence pointing to a “blinders” effect that thwarts attempts to capture customers’ attention and encourage impulse buying. A recent study co-authored by Stephanie Noble, Proffitt's Professor in Marketing and William B. Stokely Faculty Research Fellow with the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers more heartening results about consumers and their use of mobile phones.

“Contrary to anecdotal evidence, grocery shoppers who use their mobile phones while shopping increase their overall purchases,” says Noble. “Mobile phones are important facilitators to a slower shopping trip.”

In fact, the researchers noted a more than 41 percent increase in purchases when customers used their mobile phones. The likely culprit? Distraction.

“When shoppers are more distracted, such as when they are using smartphones, they tend to be less likely to stick with their shopping plan, spend more time in the store and examine product shelves to a larger extent,” Noble explains.

Eye-tracking data from more than 400 complete shopping trips combine with sales’ receipts and satisfaction survey responses to reveal new insight into the role distraction plays in customers’ shopping behavior. Study participants wore portable eye-tracking glasses during their shopping experience, allowing researchers to follow both their path through the store and the focus of their field of vision as they scanned the shelves. Those using mobile phones spent more time shopping and had to circle back to retrieve missed items, allowing additional opportunities to view items on shelves and promotional displays.

The researchers then questioned whether this distraction would negatively impact customers’ overall satisfaction with their shopping experience, but shoppers’ responses indicated no negative impact from mobile phone use.

Noble sees various real-world applications for the study’s findings, suggesting that grocery retailers can increase the value of their store communication and selling space by “offering free Wi-Fi and mobile phone charging devices on shopping carts.”

The paper, “In-Store Mobile Phone Use and Customer Shopping Behavior: Evidence from the Field,” was published in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of Marketing. Its co-authors are: Dhruv Grewal, Toyota Chair of Commerce and Electronic Business and professor of marketing with Babson College; Carl-Philip Ahlbom, marketing doctoral student with Stockholm School of Economics; Lauren Beitelspacher, assistant professor of marketing with Babson College, Stephanie Noble, Proffitt’s Professor of Marketing with the University of Tennessee; and Jens Nordfält, assistant professor with Stockholm School of Economics.