By  on December 8, 2011

The holiday 2011 season might well go down in history as the season when consumers became fully mobilized.

Studies from three organizations this week added empirical support to what retailers have seen dramatically for themselves — smartphones and tablets have moved beyond their earlier status as supplements to desktop and laptop computers to become an integral part of the shopping and buying experiences in ways that computers simply can’t.

Online holiday spending has continued to grow, ballooning 15.1 percent to $19.57 billion in the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 4, according to comScore. At the same time, adaptation of mobile devices is taking hold on the U.S. population at a fast and apparently accelerating rate. And it’s leading to a new species of online bargain shopper who is able to move on deals available through social media, e-mails and other digital delivery methods with nearly real-time speed.

Experian plc’s PriceGrabber unit, which facilitates online shopping for 23 million unique shoppers each month, found that 39 percent of the 3,574 online shoppers it surveyed have shopping-related apps on a smartphone versus 26 percent who have a smartphone without apps and 35 percent who don’t own a smartphone. Of those armed with shopping-related apps, 84 percent intend to use them to save money on holiday gifts.

They’re not finished adding to their online arsenal. Among smartphone owners, 42 percent plan to add shopping apps to aid in their holiday shopping. Among this group, 70 percent intend to download comparison-shopping apps, 65 percent will add coupon apps and 62 percent will supplement their capabilities with price checking apps with built-in barcode scanning functionality. Queried as to the reasons they’ll be adding apps, 56 percent cited their ability to find the best prices, 50 percent called out the convenience of receiving discounts and price notifications on a mobile phone and 44 percent said they only have time to shop on the go. Smaller percentages — 38 percent and 28 percent — cited the enhancement of shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and localization features, respectively.

Although 79 percent of those intending to add to their apps said they’d use their online tools on the go, 74 percent indicated they’d use them from home and 32 percent indicated they’d employ them at work.

“We expect that shoppers will stay on top of last-minute incentives and price drops that are certainly on the horizon in the coming weeks via the Internet and mobile shopping applications,” said Graham Jones, general manager of Los Angeles-based PriceGrabber, adding that its own mobile shopping application has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

In Deloitte LLP’s annual holiday survey, covering 5,019 consumers, 42 percent owned smartphones and 56 percent of that group plan to check or compare prices while in a store versus 38 percent who expect to scan barcodes for product information. More than seven out of 10 shoppers in the overall sample — 71 percent — engage in multichannel shopping and nearly a third — 32 percent — believe it is important that retailers have both a store and a Web site.

“The survey data indicate that high-income shoppers are the most active segment of online and smartphone shoppers,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman and U.S. retail and distribution leader for Deloitte. “This group is driving consumer spending, so retailers should deliver tailored messages and incentives across multiple platforms to these customers.

“Retailers should also actively market their online and mobile capabilities in the store so shoppers know they can instantly access that retailer’s merchandise and promotional information virtually anywhere,” she concluded.

The study also showed that 44 percent of respondents use social media to help with their shopping, with 57 percent of that portion employing them for discounts and roughly half reading reviews (51 percent) and researching gift ideas (49 percent). Broken down by gender, 48 percent of female respondents looked to social media, versus 41 percent of males, while men are heavier users of smartphones, with 31 percent of males using them for holiday shopping versus 24 percent of women.

Deloitte found strong adaptation of new technology among those surveyed, with eagerness to adapt in inverse proportion to age. For instance, 22 percent of all respondents said they were extremely or very interested in using a smartphone to download coupons and 21 percent indicate they’d use the devices for comparison shopping. In both cases, 38 percent of those in their 20s answered affirmatively, numbers that fell to 4 and 5 percent, respectively, among those aged 60 to 70.

Among 332 smartphone and tablet users responding to a Prosper Mobile Insights survey on their devices, 66.9 percent already had used their gadgets to shop this holiday season and 35.1 percent felt they had been an “integral” part of the experience. Although the most popular holiday uses for the devices were taking pictures (81.6 percent) and communicating with loved ones (67.8 percent), just over half — 50.3 percent — said their hardware had helped them search for gifts, stores or deals and 42.8 percent had purchased products using them. Nearly half — 48.2 percent — said they’d share holiday experiences through social media.

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