One in four U.S. consumers now rely on their smartphones for advice and guidance when shopping in physical stores.

According to Parks Associates, over 25 percent of shoppers use their devices to research products, when buying consumer electronics devices from bricks and mortar stores.

Further proving that the smartphone is well and truly cemented into modern life, the study shows that among U.S. consumers, those that frequent Target are the most likely to turn to their handsets rather than a shop assistant when choosing what to buy.

“Consumers are using apps and smartphones to enhance their brick-and-mortar shopping experience, with Target shoppers emerging as the most enthusiastic app users,” said Jennifer Kent, Senior Analyst, Parks Associates. “Our research shows 54% of Target shoppers used at least one mobile commerce app while shopping in a store for CE, while only 38% of Walmart shoppers did the same.”

Much has been written about “showrooming” in recent months, the growing trend of consumers using physical retail outlets to view a product in the flesh before making a purchase online, but it appears that however a purchase is made, the Internet, smartphones and therefore apps are becoming critical parts of the process.


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According to Placed, which conducted the in-depth from Aisle to Amazon study in February about the impact of showrooming on traditional shopping habits, in the U.S. showroomers are the most likely consumers to visit home, toy and pet stores and those that spend the most with online retailers are also the most likely to visit Victoria's Secret.

The study, which combined responses from 14,925 U.S. shoppers with the direct measurement of almost 1 billion location data points during January 2013 also found that males and females that showroom do so at very different stores.

Showrooming men are 39 percent more likely than the national average to visit the Best Buy electronics store, while their female counterparts were 49 percent more likely to head to a Kohl's department store. What's more, men were more likely to head to home improvement retailers such as the Home Depot (24%) and Lowe's (23%) before making a corresponding purchase online.

But as the trend of showrooming continues to grow, so do retailers' and tech companies' efforts to reverse the damage it is doing.

In September, Estimote won the best hardware start-up award at the Tech Crunch Disrupt conference for its Estimote Beacon: a small device aimed at retailers who want to continue having physical stores in physical locations in the real world, it allows them to add new levels of interactivity to their retail spaces.

Each beacon can push specific information to a smartphone or tablet up to a distance of 50 meters — anything from special offers, to stock lists, the ability to pre-order a product, they have the potential to make anything within the shop as well as the shop itself part of a searchable Internet. They also have the capability of supporting wireless and virtual wallet payments.

As the company's founder, Jakub Krzych, said when presenting the Beacon at the conference: “The small beacons we produce broadcast venue-specific data to smartphones that are as far away as 160 feet (50 meters) and as close as 2 inches. They trigger different actions on consumer phones depending on their arrival time and distance from the product, and even precise behavior like trying on clothes or touching the product. The more beacons, the richer the experience, but even a few dozen will be enough to create great micro-location apps in the store.”

Likewise, Facebook has this month launched a partnership with Cisco to offer social network users free wi-fi access in shops and stores in return for checking in on Facebook and sharing their location. Parks Associates research shows that there is clearly an appetite among U.S. consumers for this level of in-store interactivity.