How Smartphones Shape The Way We Shop

woman shopping phone.jpg

People who are actively looking for a solution are the clearest indication of a design opportunity.

The ways people are using smartphones while shopping tell us there are many gaps in the experience that people are trying to bridge with their phones. Here are 30 of them.



1. Find a store that carries the merchandise they need using search and navigation apps
2. Go to the store to check out the merchandise they are planning to buy online (aka showrooming)
3. Post their impressions, pictures and videos of the merchandise while shopping
4. Alert others about the rare or discounted merchandise they found
5. Bring in detailed product information to the store instead of having their shopping process guided by the sales staff (in auto dealerships, for example)


6. Find their way to the store using a GPS app
7. Take a picture of the car to remember later where it’s parked
8. Use the phone as a shopping list
9. Receive updates for their shopping list from someone else (a friend, a spouse)
10. Arrange their shopping list in a way that minimizes their shopping time (and any accidental exposure to unplanned merchandise)
11. Use their smartphone to entertain young children to shop in peace
12. Use the smartphone to kill time while waiting for someone else to finish shopping
13. Receive offers from competing business while shopping at a store or navigating at a mall
14. "Bookmark" merchandise by taking pictures for future reference
15. Monitor things back home through a video feed and shop in peace
16. Check for important work emails, which before would have required being physically present 


17. Use their smartphone’s front camera as a mirror (when trying on glasses, for example)
18. Send a picture of the item to someone else for confirmation of correct selection (are these the tampons you need, honey?), or for approval (you look great in those)
19. Look up ratings and reviews for an item they are considering
20. Look up dimensions and other specifications for an item
21. Look up post-purchase information:  additional costs (insurance or add-ons, for example), as well as usage, care, or assembly instructions
22. Take and send pictures of the merchandise  they are considering to friends and receive their friends’ feedback
23. Look at pictures taken earlier for reference (pictures of a room, for example, when selecting a carpet)
24. Compare the item's price against the store’s own prices online. Compare the price against other online and  brick-and-mortar stores
25. Look up price change history for the item
26. Look for online coupons for the store they are already in
27. Like something, then look up its availability at competitors or at more convenient locations


27. Carry loyalty cards with them at all times on their phone
28. Look at the phone during the check-out process and not at the shelves, driving the sales of the impulse-purchase merchandise down
29. Abandon the purchase and buy the same item online in order to save money or to avoid standing in line or having to carry it
30. Pay with the phone


New smartphone-enabled behaviors such as comparison shopping present obvious challenges. Many others, though, are good for the stores. Some reduce distractions: using phones as pacifiers for impatient children. Some provide information that reduces anxiety about the purchase.

Now that we know how things have developed over the past ten years, we could try imagining the trajectory for the next ten.  Will phones detect our our subconscious reactions to the merchandise and make suggestions accordingly?  Will voice assistants have memory of what we paid for the same item last time? Will they prevent us from overindulging and buying two tubs of ice-cream instead of one? Will we see floating AR-enabled arrows pointing towards the shelves that have the items from our shopping list?