Mobile-shoppingMy sister-in-law, Karen Meadows, shared a comic by Sarah Andersen on her Facebook wall, all about how the comic character spent frugally on groceries, clothes, and household items, then in a bookstore threw money around like a rock star. It’s an amusing image, all the more so for how many lovers of literature can recognize themselves in that “rock star.”

With the image share, Karen wrote:

So you’re my friend, and you recommend a book. I immediately buy it on Amazon. No, I don’t mean I go home and get it; I mean I pull it up on my phone and tap “Purchase Now.” If I wait, I’ll forget, and that could let a marvelous gem slip through the sieve of my mind.

When I chatted with her afterward, she added, “I just did that on Sunday when we had friends over. For 1 cent plus $3.99 shipping, it’s worth it to just buy a used copy right away.” She was referring to Amazon used paper books there, but she added she will purchase e-books the same way.

It occurred to me that one of the biggest effects mobile devices have had on book sales is not necessarily the ability to read an e-book anywhere as it is the ability to purchase a book or e-book anywhere. We often tend to think about those two things as happening simultaneously—you want to read an e-book you don’t have, so you buy it and start reading right away—but as Karen demonstrates, it’s also great for buying something right away so you don’t forget, even if you don’t plan to read it right then. (Indeed, for print books, you can’t read them right then.)

This puts me in mind of an experience I tend to relate regarding how I saved a lot of money by “showrooming” well before I even had a smartphone. In my old dumbphone days, I used a service whereby I could text the UPC code of an item to a pricechecker, and it would then text me back as to whether I could get the item cheaper online.

Frequently I’d see something in a store that appealed to me, would whip off the text, and find out it was cheaper on-line. So I didn’t buy it in the store. But by the time I got home and could have ordered it online, I’d forgotten I even wanted the thing, whatever it was. So I didn’t end up buying it. Hence, money saved!

But modern showrooming and shopping apps like Amazon Flow could make a big difference in that. When I check a price and find something cheaper on Amazon now, I haven’t been tempted to place such an order yet—in fact, many big-box shops like Fry’s and Best Buy will now pricematch Amazon items, so I use it as proof there instead and walk out of the shop with the item now at Amazon’s price.

I also haven’t been in the situation where someone recommended a book and I had to have it right away so I didn’t forget. I tend to prefer to order stuff from home so I can be sure to add the “&tag=tebrtheboho-20” or other affiliate code to the URL in the hope of sending some referral revenue someone’s way. But I could certainly see doing it.

Has having access to web storefronts and store apps in your pocket changed the way you’ve shopped for books (or other items)? Do you subscribe to the “buy-it-while-you-still-remember” school of thought? I’ll be interested to hear your points of view.


    • I agree. In the situation as described, I would just take a note on my tablet with the book title and author. When I get home I will check the book out in more detail, i.e. read the free sample at amazon. If it still looks good, I will check to see if I can borrow the book from my local library. If not, I might buy it online, if the price looks good.

  1. Chris, extracting more money from people has been enabled by technology through ATMs and now mobile technology. When surveyed, customers always correlate convenience with ease of buying, which includes not forgetting. So yes, buying something quickly now with a couple of button pushes is certainly helping book sales. I make this argument regularly to some authors who make the mistake of believing their work is so important readers will remember to buy later. Many will not and be just as happy to save that money.

  2. Good question!

    For me, the answer is no. But then again, I don’t use mobile devices much in that way. I’m usually close enough to my computer that if i read something interesting I’ll go buy it from my laptop.

    But the more general answer is yes, tech has changed my buying habits. If I hear of something, I’ll search for it and maybe buy it.

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