The latest gossip about Kim Kardashian. The score of the latest Miami Heat game. The most recent speculation about potential contenders in the 2016 presidential race.
Yes, you can find all of that — and so much more — with a few taps on your smartphone’s screen. But getting your news and pop culture fix on the go lags another American pastime: shopping.
In a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of Internet-using adults in the U.S. reported that cellphones and the Internet had made them more knowledgeable about products and services than they were five years earlier. That was the highest percentage of any category in the survey, ahead of segments like national news (75 percent), pop culture (72 percent) and hobbies (68 percent).
Kiseol Yang, associate professor of merchandising and digital retailing at the University of North Texas in Denton, says mobile apps and sites can collectively serve as a “personal shopping assistant.” Yang contends mobile shopping is “more convenient, efficient, effective and economical” than desktop shopping, offering the on-the-fly ability to look up product reviews, compare prices among several retailers and score in-store coupons.
But does that necessarily translate into smart shopping? Perhaps. But let’s not take any chances. Here are six lessons that can boost your Internet IQ and put you on the path toward becoming a mobile-shopping genius.
1. Don’t ditch your desktop
While shopping via a mobile device delivers advantages, it shouldn’t be the only way you buy online, according to Christo Wilson, assistant professor of computer and information science at Northeastern University in Boston. A study co-authored by Wilson and released in 2014 found that on 16 retail and travel websites, product and price selections sometimes differed between mobile and desktop shoppers.
For example, many travel sites offered mobile-only deals that would trim $10 to $20 from the nightly cost of a hotel room, Wilson says. However, he says, the study also showed that some mobile customers shopping on Home Depot’s website were quoted higher prices for the same category of products than desktop customers were.
“Our research has shown that sometimes shopping from your mobile device will get you deals, but other times it won’t,” Wilson says. “Predicting when you may or may not get a deal is super hard, and even if I made a prediction today, there’s no guarantee it would be correct tomorrow.”
Wilson recommends comparison shopping on mobile and desktop devices as often as possible.
2. Mind your screens
Kristina Michniak, global apparel manager at clothing and accessories e-tailer Spreadshirt, suggests shopping online on a device that feels comfortable to you.
“Smartphones are great for quick access to the Web, but their small screens can sometimes make it difficult to really see what you are purchasing,” Michniak says. “For big-ticket items, a desktop may be preferable.”
Melissa Chelist, owner of StorkGifts, an online seller of personalized baby gifts, says she’s noticed that more ordering errors are made by shoppers on mobile devices compared with other devices. She says it’s too easy to make typos on mobile devices, which typically have small screens and keyboards.
To prevent such mistakes when shopping online, Chelist will obtain basic product information or compare prices on a mobile device, but she’ll order a product on a desktop or laptop computer, particularly if specifics like size or color are involved.
3. Whet your app-etite
If your favorite retailer has developed a shopping app, download it on your mobile device, Michniak says. Using such apps improves the mobile shopping experience, she says, as you won’t run into a website that’s not optimized for mobile devices.
Nonetheless, 63 percent of smartphone owners say they prefer shopping on a retailer’s mobile website, while 37 percent prefer shopping on a retailer’s mobile app, according to research released in January by digital agency Siteworx.
4. Shop at your leisure
“Some like to shop at home, some on the go, some on lunch breaks,” Michniak says. “The choice is all yours, but make it a comfortable one, as online purchases can be a big decision.”
5. Stay safe
Make sure you’re shopping on a secure website, Michniak says, since online shopping poses dangers such as identity theft. If a site isn’t secure or you aren’t certain whether it is, avoid using your debit card, she says. Instead, experts suggest, pay through PayPal or with a credit card.
“Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered,” the National Cyber Security Alliance says.
Security signs to look for include a closed padlock on the address bar of a Web browser or a URL address that starts with https or shttp, according to the alliance. Addresses that start with http are not secure. Also: “Never use unsecured wireless networks to make an online purchase,” the alliance says. That means no public Wi-Fi when ordering.
6. Be prepared to dig
Ari Weil, vice president of products at Yottaa, which makes Web software for retailers, cautions that mobile consumers might need to do more hunting for details about products and services than desktop consumers do. In that regard, mobile consumers are “really at the mercy of the retailer,” he says.
“In theory, all the product and service information that the retailer has on its website should also be readily available to a consumer on a mobile device,” Weil says. “However, many retailers have not optimized their websites for mobile devices, leaving consumers with inadequate information to make purchasing decisions.”