Mobile Shoppers Putting More Pressure on Retailer Pricing

Smartphone shopping apps are helping consumers buy more online, and they’re getting people better deals on the street. Two new data points from online auctioneer eBay (s ebay) and price comparison app Scanbuy help drive that home, and more importantly, suggest where things are ultimately headed: Deal-hungry users are increasingly going to put pressure on retailers, both online and offline, to change prices in real time to satisfy these more savvy buyers. First, here’s the news:

  • EBay said Wednesday that global mobile sales brought in almost $2 billion in 2010, up from $600 million in 2009. In the U.S., eBay mobile sales grew almost 175 percent, generating nearly $850 million in gross merchandise value in 2010.
  • Meanwhile, Scanbuy said mobile barcode scanning activity was up 16x in 2010 over 2009, with scanning in the fourth quarter doubling that of the previous quarter. The big scan days were the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

What this confirms is that consumers are wielding their smartphones as shopping tools, arming themselves with data that’s informing their choices. In some cases, it’s pushing people to buy online. In other cases, they’re searching for better deals nearby. But as users get more access to pricing data wherever they are at all times, it’s going to force retailers to have to react more in real time with their pricing. If users can see there are deals to be found elsewhere, retailers are going to have learn how to respond quickly with counter offers.

As IDC put it in a recent report on mobile shopping: Consumers are “ready to use their mobile devices in ways that transform how they shop everywhere and, in particular, how they shop in retail stores.”

This is good news for consumers, who can leverage this data more for in-store discounts and bargaining. Flash an online price of a product at a Best Buy (s bby) employee, and see if the price can be matched or beaten. It’s going to put more pressure on retailers to monitor these pricing schemes and devise quick strategies. It’s not enough to just offer check-in coupons and offers; they’re going to have to be aware of the competing offers available to consumers as they hunt for bargains. One option for physical retailers is to make the in-store buying process easier, possibly through emerging applications like AisleBuyer, a service I recently wrote about that lets users do mobile self-check-outs. The war is on for those shopping dollars, and retailers need to have some kind of real-time battle plan.

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