Information has come to play an increasingly vital role in the purchasing decision for many products. As technologies have evolved (e.g., personal computers, smartphones, etc.), information availability and accessibility have moved from being cost-prohibitive as a result of time and energy constraints to being an inexpensive, instantly available component of many consumers’ shopping repertoire (TechBargains.com, 2012). In addition to the proliferation of instant information, technology has enabled shopping to move from the showroom floor of a retail outlet to online. Through the use of mobile technologies (e.g., smartphones), consumers can now expand their online shopping experience by accelerating online and in-store purchases on the customer’s terms. A smartphone is defined as a cellular telephone with built-in applications and Internet access (PC World, 2012). The successful adoption of mobile technology has not only encouraged organizations to continue investing in it in 2012, but has also led them to hire more employees with mobile skills and to build on existing programs to find new ways to engage connected consumers (Caron, 2012; Oracle Endeca, 2012).
The prevalence of mobile technology has rapidly spread (McKinsey & Company, 2011). According to the Mobile Future Focus Report, Year 2011 proved to be a groundbreaking year for the mobile industry with consumers increasingly integrating mobile behaviors into their lifestyles. Mobile behaviors would include online search, purchase, and use of applications or apps. As mobile channels present a more personal, social, and ubiquitous experience to consumers, advertisers and publishers have an opportunity to better engage target audiences. The report ranked “retail purchasing” as the second-highest mobile media category in the United States followed by “other commerce-related” categories such as electronic payments and auction sites. More than half of the U.S. smartphone population used their phone to perform retail research while inside a store in 2011, illustrating the emergence of savvy smartphone shoppers who bring online shopping behaviors in-store. At the end of 2011, nearly one in five smartphone users scanned product barcodes, and nearly one in eight compared prices on their phone while in a store.
The comScore 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report found that nearly 42% of all U.S. mobile subscribers now use a smartphone (comScore, 2012). Among consumers most likely to use a smartphone, consumers aged 18 to 29 years were the most active demographic during 2011 with 33% using their phone for more than six activities per day (InsightExpress, 2012). However, one-third (33%) of all consumers (not just the younger demographic) used their phone specifically for online information while inside a physical store either for product reviews or pricing information during the 2011 holiday season (Pew Research Center, 2012). The percentages found by the Pew Research Center (2012) are not unique but similar to other studies including Freedman (2011), (Google/IPSOS, 2011), Oracle ATG Web Commerce (2011), and PriceGrabber.com (2011).
With the increased consumer reliance on Internet-based technologies, it is essential for green industry firms to understand the impact of new technologies on their business. Total green industry sales in 2008 were estimated at $27.14 billion, and total industry employment was estimated at 262,941 permanent and temporary jobs (Hodges et al., 2010). As noted by Mason et al. (2008), 85% of consumers in their survey indicated they would be willing to visit an Internet web site that provides more information on how to care for and maintain a container garden. Furthermore, Behe et al. (2008) conducted the first investigations of online search and purchase studies related to plants and gardening. Their objectives were to provide baseline information for horticultural firms considering establishing an online presence either for information-seekers or plant- and related product purchases. They found that nearly 28% of U.S. consumers searched for gardening information at least once in the year before the study, 2007; of those, more than 50% searched for information at least weekly. Behe et al. (2008) did find differences in gardening-related searches by age and marital status but not by region of residence, income, or gender. They also found that all online gardening purchasers were also in-person purchasers with one lone exception. Results of these studies show that there is a potential to increase sales by taking advantage of the mobile technology boom.
Our research sought to compare smartphone and Internet use of gardening consumers with those of consumers at large. Specifically, we compare consumers who searched online for gardening and non-gardening-related information and also compare those consumers who made online gardening and non-gardening-related purchases. Our hypothesis is that consumers who search online for non-gardening information are demographically and behaviorally similar to those who search online for gardening information (Hypothesis 1). Furthermore, we hypothesize that those who make online purchases of non-gardening products are similar to those who make gardening online purchases (Hypothesis 2). Lastly, we hypothesize that searching for gardening information online increases the likelihood of an online gardening purchase (Hypothesis 3). The results of this study are also compared with previously cited gardening-related research by Behe et al. (2008) to determine how much gardening-related online search and purchasing behavior has changed over the last five years. Finally, we extend the work of Behe et al. (2008) by comparing U.S. and Canadian consumers, which offers new insights into the behaviors of consumers in these two markets.
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