ToyBooklogoToday’s toy shopping experience has become a combination—or choice—of in-person browsing, online price comparisons, and research in a way we’d previously never seen before the dawn of the smartphone. Gone are the days of browsing the aisles of a single store, limited to its inventory and prices. Competitors used to be a trip or a phone call away, and often, shoppers didn’t have the time or desire to drive around town in search of a slightly lower price.

Shoppers that want instant gratification can now do a quick search online to check if the toy they want is in stock, or to see which store in their area offers the lowest price or is having a sale, promoting a discount or coupon, or other incentives. I am often this type of shopper—I know what I want, and I know when I want it: Now! However, depending on the product or price, I’m willing to go out of my way to find a better deal. It’s incredible that I can pull out my iPhone and determine the best way to spend my money in an instant. Not only that, I can get directions to the store while I’m at it!

Other shoppers don’t mind waiting to get an even lower price from retailers such as amazon.com, or even ebay.com. Toy retailers sometimes use eBay to clear out stock to make room for new products, as did a small local toy store I worked at years ago. The owner of the store would sell expensive strollers and car seats at significant discounts, simply because newer models had come in and there wasn’t enough physical room in the store for all of the new and old products. This can be a valuable money-saving tool, if you read product descriptions carefully and take sellers’ feedback and ratings into account.

Another powerful tool shoppers have at their disposal is the review. Consumer reviews of products are perhaps the most influential aspect of researching a product. When I’m considering making a purchase, reviews are one of the first things I look to for advice. If a product has an overall positive reception from consumers, I am more likely to make the purchase because I have the confidence that others before me have had a good experience. If the reception is negative, it’s highly unlikely that I will make the purchase. Why would I, when so many others have given their fair warnings? Reviews are vital to the online shopping experience.

According to the data research company GfK, 40 percent of shoppers compare prices on their phones in a store before making a purchase. The same number say they contact a friend or family member for advice before making the purchase, while 36 percent take photos of products and 29 percent take photos of an ad. Interestingly, with as much focus on online shopping and advertising as we have these days, only 23 percent actually make a purchase through a website or an app while in a store. This could be because a consumer opts for the convenience of instant gratification over saving a few bucks, or because retailers have been forced to be ultra-competitive, now that consumers have the advantage of instant comparisons. Either way, most purchases are still made in a physical store, even though the presence of the Internet in our pockets has changed the way we shop.

Competition is fierce, and shoppers know it. Price-match offers are a great way for retailers to keep a customer in their store, from browsing to point-of-sale. It honors the customer’s efforts to shop smart, while giving the retailer the best chance of making the sale.

For more commentary from Christine, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!