Smartphone apps could be the magic bullet of marketing for retailers, according to a December 2011 ABI Research survey of U.S. consumers. The study, "Mobile Shopping and the Mobile Wallet," reported that smartphone users who had downloaded a retailer-branded app said the app caused them to visit the store more (45.8 percent), buy more of the store/brand's products and services (40.4 percent), tell a friend about their store shopping experience (35.8 percent), and encourage friends to visit the store (30.8 percnet).

"These are overwhelmingly positive numbers," said senior analyst Mark Beccue. "They are so compelling that if retailers do not have a smartphone app strategy in place right now they are in danger of being left behind by their competitors."

The study, however, also reported that only 25 percent of the respondents had downloaded a retailer-branded app. It is possible the high level of positive response is due to the profile of the respondents, who might be enthusiastic fans of particular stores. As the number of consumers who download retailer-branded apps go up, the level of positive response might go down. A second effect that probably won't benefit retailer-branded apps: 37.9 percent of the respondents said downloading a retailer's branded app caused them to download other retailer-branded apps.

Still, the numbers are compelling, Beccue said.

"Clearly consumers are using retailer-branded apps as an engagement tool. Once a retailer can capture a consumer with one, there is a real opportunity to leverage smartphone apps to enhance customer service, deliver richer, more relevant product information in real time, shorten checkout lines and more," he said. "We are at the dawn of a very dynamic and creative time for retail."

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