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Smart Brands Know Customers Use Smartphones In-Stores

By Suzanne Schwartz | October 31, 2022 | 0 Comments

MarketingContent Marketing and ManagementCustomer Understanding and Marketing ExecutionDigital Marketing Strategy and Execution

We all use our smartphones everywhere, seemingly all the time, and mostly not for calls. We use them at home, often as alarm clocks, to provide directions to the bus stop, to pay for the bus, to listen to music or read the news on the bus, or to visit a favorite brand’s website. The list goes on. There is a very high likelihood that you are reading this blog post on your smartphone.

According to the 2021 Gartner Values and Lifestyle Survey, 77% of smartphone users use a smartphone while shopping in a store. Considering all the places we use our smartphones, this makes sense. It is a valuable resource when shopping. This is important for retailers and marketers because it means a majority of customers who are in-store (offline) are also online at the same time, interacting with multiple marketing touch points and stimuli at the same time.

But how people use their smartphones when shopping in-store is continuously evolving, and will continue to do so as adopted pandemic shopping habits morph based on inflationary and price concerns.

Specifically, in 2022, smartphone users have increasingly accessed their apps and/or websites for loyalty program benefits or rewards. In 2022, 24% of smartphone users reported opening apps or websites for loyalty program benefits or rewards while in-store, up from 18% in 2021. According to the Gartner 2022 Values and Lifestyle Survey, this is true across all generations: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers (See Figure 1). This is one of the many ways consumers are reporting combating inflation and finding value amongst price increases.

Figure 1:

In 2022, More U.S. Consumers use Apps for Benefits / Rewards
Across all generations, more U.S. consumers use apps for benefits / rewards in 2022 than in 2021


At the same time, while customers are hunting for more loyalty rewards and deals, they have shifted away from other in-store smartphone activities, such as taking pictures. In 2021, 35% of smartphone users said they used their smartphone, in-store, to take pictures of actual products they might buy. But in 2022, only 17% of smartphone users reported using their smartphones to take pictures of actual products they might buy when in-store; a decrease of 18% (See Figure 2). 

So why the drop in picture taking and the increase in benefits and rewards? As discussed in marketing blogs, inflation has hit customers hard and they are looking for ways to save money. Loyalty program benefits and rewards help do that. Pictures are less effective as a way to save money and as a price comparison tool.

Moreover, the act of taking pictures with smartphones has also changed. In 2022, customers are more willing to spend more time visiting stores than they were in 2021, when early pandemic experiences were still fresh and there was a mentality to get in and out of a store quickly. Back then, a quick photo to a friend, partner or parent could act as confirmation for a purchase and enable them to complete purchases quickly, or as a reminder to do more research before purchases. In 2022, on average, 60% of customers say they visit a physical store or office for product information, not just for final purchases, when shopping for personal care products, apparel, food and beverages and household items (2022 Gartner Consumer Values and Lifestyle Survey).

Lastly, at least for younger generations, taking pictures might not be as cool as it used to be. The steepest declines in picture taking in store were for Gen Z and Millennial smartphone users. Boomers actually reported a small increase in taking pictures with their smartphones in stores: 16% up from 15% in 2021. This trend is coupled with the increase in video content engagement, especially for younger consumer, via platforms like TikTok, while taking and sharing pictures is no longer the “it” form of communication. 

Figure 2:

In 2022, Fewer U.S. Consumers Take Pictures of Products on Smartphones when In-Store
Across all generations except for Boomers, fewer U.S. consumers take pictures of products on smartphones when shopping in-store


In summary, smartphones and mobile marketing will continue to play an important part of the customer journey for consumers, retailers and brands, but the ways they engage with each other will continue to evolve as new apps and trends take hold. With this in mind, we recommend that retailers and marketers:

  • Assume customers will use their phone while they are in stores. Use this to your advantage when creating loyalty rewards, discounts and hybrid shopping experiences. (Also, assume a customer engaging with an app or visiting a website via mobile web might be physically in a store while doing so).
  • Help customers go between mobile app and in-store experiences, so they can use rewards across both points of purchase, and take advantage of deals or discounts.
  • Test different ways to encourage customer interactions on smartphones, both in-store, and elsewhere in real life. 

Regardless, consumers will continue to walk around with a mini-computer in their pocket and will continue to use it to transcend the online-offline divide, which we can all admit, is a little blurry.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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