Giving gone smart: Taking on holiday buying with smartphones

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18 2012 6:30 a.m. MST

Angie Green gets a jump-start on her Christmas shopping at Toys R Us in Salt Lake County on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Despite the threat of a possible 'fiscal cliff,' customers say they'll spend the most money this holiday season since 2007.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Heather Lapham Kuhn can still remember the first online purchase she made. It was a set of night lights, in 1996. The second she clicked the last button, she realized the exhilaration of online shopping wouldn't go away anytime soon.

"It was when one of the first sites that was open to shop online," Kuhn said of her first online purchase. "It was very exciting."

She now does the majority of her shopping online, especially during the holidays. Between the convenience of shopping from home, the price-comparison apps and the free shipping deals, there are few things she needs to visit stores to buy.

She likes "being able to think calmly about what I want and to not be getting pushed around," Kuhn said. "As (it) becomes an easier process, as they are offering free shipping and all of those good things, it's just more enticing to do it that way."

The holidays mean giving — the main source of joy, stress and anxiety all rolled into one. The Internet and mobile devices have forever changed the way shopping is done, whether they aid in research of products or allow for instant online purchase of gifts. People are still giving just as much as always during the holidays, but the medium for finding and purchasing those gifts has changed, first with online shopping and again via mobile shopping, aka smartphones.

Mobile shopping

Shopping online isn't exclusively happening behind home computers anymore; it is now everywhere people go, and continues to grow as one of the biggest, and now one of the most popular, ways for people to buy before giving.

This holiday season, for the first time ever, the majority of shoppers — 51.8 percent — will do at least a portion of their shopping online, according to Karen Edwards, professor and retail expert at the University of South Carolina.

"It's growing, it's the fastest growing sector for retailers," Edwards said of online shopping. "This is becoming the norm, at least part of all of our shopping is happening online. ... I think a big factor is the comparison shopping applications. Plus, the promotion of retailers and the convenience for the shopper."

During the holiday shopping season of 2011, 41 percent of people who used their mobile phones to help with shopping also made a direct purchase with them, according to a post-holiday study done by Google. Of those same shoppers with a smartphone, 46 percent researched an item on their phone, then went to the store to purchase it, and 37 percent researched items on their phone and also made the purchase online.

"There are more devices out there, more people are using them ... As people acquire more technology and become more comfortable with technology and online-based transactions, we will continue to see growth," Edwards told the Deseret News.

Apps in the aisles

Jenny Stinson's favorite accessory while holiday shopping is her iPhone, specifically the RedLaser application she can use for price checking right on the spot.

"It shows you the cheapest place to get it. ... It just compares against major stores and chains," Stinson said. "Usually comparing everything to Amazon is pretty reliable. ... It's usually a better price there, but if not I can just get it there in the store."

Stinson has done about 80 percent of her holiday shopping from her home computer and tablet, and the rest with the help of her phone.

Online couponing and deals via smartphone have become another huge aspect of holiday shopping, both online and brick-and-mortar, Edwards said. It is just another way for competition to be amped up for businesses, and to pronounce even more significant deals to give consumers a leg-up.