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Can you see me in this? Mobiles in the changing room: Shoppers send pictures of prospective purchases Smartphones altering habits on the high street
[December 11, 2010]

Can you see me in this? Mobiles in the changing room: Shoppers send pictures of prospective purchases Smartphones altering habits on the high street

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) You used to have to wait until you got home for someone to answer "does my bum look big in this?" but the popularity of smartphones is feeding a new mobile shopping culture where the balance of power is shifting in favour of consumers.

Phone companies on the lookout for trends in the millions of texts, calls and internet searches made every hour have identified hotspots around store changing rooms as shoppers photograph themselves trying on new outfits then beam the images to friends for an instant verdict.

This week Vodafone UK chief executive Guy Laurence told a gathering of senior retailers they had "lost control of their shoppers". He said: "A quarter of people now have internet-enabled phones, but among 16-24-year-olds that figure is 45%." He added that a fifth of young shoppers browsing in Oxford Street, London, on a Saturday were online at the same time, looking at social media sites such as Facebook as well as checking rivals' prices.

Young fashion shoppers, added Laurence, "spend longer and longer in changing rooms . . . They go in and put on two or three outfits, take pictures, send them to friends and wait to get their opinions back. We know they are doing it because we can see messages going out from a particular corner of a store." Shoppers can now use their phone to receive coupons for the very stores they are walking past, with their screen presenting a virtual shopping mall with a list of the local discounts before they even get off the bus. Research from Motorola found 51% of consumers are using their mobile phones for in-store research while 61% want to be able to scan barcodes to access information on other stores' prices.

Tim Greenhalgh, executive director at design consultancy Fitch, said: "A mobile used to be something for listening and speaking but now it's a lens to look through. It sends you offers when you are shopping and you can message friends asking 'does my bum look big in this?'" With smartphone ownership growing at 70% a year, three-quarters of UK consumers are expected to have one in 18 months' time. Their growing prevalence is expected to boost what is dubbed "m-commerce", with experts predicting that more consumers will connect to the internet via mobiles than desktop PCs within five years. Indeed, this Christmas the internet trade body IMRG is predicting that almost 20% of the pounds 6.4bn due to be spent online will come via phones. The big chains are already seeing the shift, with Tesco expecting 10% of its sales to come via mobile this Christmas, while a similar figure is true for Ocado.

Tim Dunn, director of customer strategy at technology company Mobile Interactive, says: "If you go back 12 months ago it was only internet companies like eBay and Amazon that were involved in m-commerce. Now everyone from M&S to John Lewis and Next is involved. Next year the entire high street will be enabled for mobile shopping." But the wealth of information at shoppers' fingertips presents a headache for retailers. Laurence argued that retailing used to be "about getting people through the door", but now shoppers were really in more than one shop at the same time. "Shoppers have access to rivals and other consumers' views of the products they are looking at. They can see what it costs at an outlet up the road and whether it is in stock," he said.

Tech-savvy shoppers are embracing so-called "augmented reality" apps such as RedLaser that turn phones into barcode scanners that glean extra information and gather online prices. Companies are trying to make the process more appealing to technophobes with apps such as Google Googles suggesting a future where customers need only photograph an item to find out all they want to know.

Businesses are also adapting the technology to suit their needs. Ikea's app lets shoppers use their mobile's camera to see how a piece of furniture fits in with their decor before they assemble it. Meanwhile, the coffee chain Starbucks has teamed up with the O2 network to offer a service that logs your location and pings you a voucher when you pass an outlet.

20% The percentage of online sales this Christmas which are predicted to come via mobile phones, according to trade body IMRG Captions: Shoppers are using phones to access discounts and compare prices between stores Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian (c) 2010 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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