The Smartphone Has Become an Essential Shopping Tool

Just over half of U.S. adult cell phone owners used their handsets for shopping assistance while in stores during the 2011 holiday season, a new Pew Research Center survey shows.

In a 30-day period before and after Christmas, nearly 4 out of 10 mobile users phoned a friend from inside a brick-and-mortar store to seek buying advice.

A quarter of cell owners used their phones while inside a store to go online and find product reviews. And a quarter of adult cell users went online to see if they could find a better price for a product they were considering buying, the Pew study found.

Younger folks were much more likely than their parents and grandparents to use their phones as shopping tools.

Sixty-three percent of cell owners from ages 18 to 49 either called a friend for buying advice, or looked up product reviews online. For ages 30 to 49, the percent fell slightly to 59 percent. And only 25 percent of 65-and-up cell users phoned friends or looked for online reviews.

For brick-and-mortar retailers, the Pew findings are sobering. Mobile devices are rapidly becoming essential shopping tools, and more smartphone- and tablet-toting consumers will soon insist that physical stores match or beat the prices of their online competitors.

It's no wonder that retailers are a tad testy. The Retail Industry Leaders Association recently griped about one of Amazon's price-matching promotions that gave shoppers a 5-percent discount for using Amazon's smartphone app to compare the online retailer's prices with those of physical stores.

The bad news for retailers: Mobile devices are here to stay, and price-matching is only going to get more popular.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci at Today@PCWorld, Twitter (@jbertolucci) or

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