Consumers Council of Canada released a report today that concludes new smartphone apps of Canadian "bricks and mortar" retailers can help consumers get good deals, fail to deliver some important information and provide product reviews that can be useful if read critically.
First among its recommendations, the Council implores all users of smartphones (and tablet devices) to password protect and lock them. The smartphone is the most personal of all technology, and information collected with it needs to be protected.
The report says retailers' apps should do more to help consumers easily understand what information they will share and store and for what purposes.
"Privacy policies presented on mobile devices are more difficult to read and comprehend than on a desktop or laptop computer – yet are often offered to the consumer at a time when they are 'on the go' and not as receptive to the byzantine legalese of some of these documents, nor able to read what is too often microscopic type," the report says.
The report, entitled "Do Smartphones Make for Smarter Consumers?", compares in detail the features of the apps of some of Canada’s best-known retailers and leading global competitors, and it highlights best practices.
The research found that generally the best of the apps of Canadian retailers are powerful, yet often inferior to the global competition. In some cases they provide less functionality, information and service than those of their global parent company, but there are noteworthy exceptions.
The report determined careful consumers, assisted by smartphone apps and dealing with retailers they can trust, can make purchases faster, make better purchase decisions and find opportunities to pay less for what they buy.
However, the report highlighted that Canadians who cannot afford a smartphone may be disadvantaged in the future as key consumer information and aspects of consumer service come to depend on mobile devices running apps.
The research included focus groups conducted for the Council by Research House, a division of Environics. One important observation from the focus groups was that consumers who are smartphone users are still learning how to use the free apps provided by retailers. Focus group participants noted the apps can help locate goods, obtain product information and compare prices offered by competing retailers.
The Council found that opportunities to comment online provide consumers a way to tell retailers, manufacturers and other consumers what they learned about products and services they purchased. These consumer comments on products are now available to shoppers in-store on their smartphones. However, this information frequently requires careful attention to be helpful.
The report determined product safety certifications and other consumer protection information like warranties included on product packages are mostly unavailable through retailers' apps.
The Council received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations to conduct the research. The views expressed in the report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.
The report was prepared for the Council by Howard Deane, a consultant in knowledge management, social media, web analytics and search engine optimization and a former chief knowledge officer for KPMG (Canada).
The research report can be downloaded at:
For more information about the research contact: