Retailers Discover Differences In iPhone, BlackBerry Customers

With so many retail sites embracing multiple mobile sites—one mobile site for Apple’s iPhone, one for Research In Motions’s BlackBerry, one for non-smartphones, etc.—in addition to dedicated phone applications, one of the new marketing capabilities will be to send different messages to users of specific phones. But, many have asked, what's the point? It's not like Palm Pre and BlackBerry users are their own demographic, such as high-income, young shopper or shoe fetishist. Or is it?

A Boston geolocation vendor argues that different phone brands absolutely are linked to very different purchasing patterns and preferences. For example: "BlackBerry users are more likely to compare gas prices online than other smartphone owners. Users of iPhones, meanwhile, are eight times more likely to search for Starbucks locations than users of other smartphones," according to this Forbes story quoting officials at uLocate Communications.

uLocate has a dedicated localization app for various phones (iPhone, BlackBerry, Pre and Google's Android phones), and it's been tracking very distinct differences. Android and iPhone consumers search for Wal-Mart, but BlackBerry and Pre users opt for Best Buy. Android users agree with Pre consumers that Pizza Hut is the place to go for quick eats, with McDonald’s being the choice for iPhone and BlackBerry searchers. And Walgreens and CVS are among the top searched terms across all phones.

The story quoted a uLocate exec—Dan Gilmartin, uLocate's vice president of marketing—who offered some explanations, such as that BlackBerry and Pre users tend to be slightly older and that the McDonald's and Starbucks preferences might have something to do with the Wi-Fi in those locations.

There's no question that the capability to slice and dice data is—almost always—a good thing. But over-analysis may also suggest incorrect conclusions. Gilmartin's point about Wi-Fi influences is a good one, and it could easily change as more locations support Wi-Fi.

The real question is: Do iPhone (or BlackBerry or Pre) consumers act differently enough and consistently enough to justify different messaging for each, sent to various kinds of phones? Will relatively small price increases/decreases in the phone cause sharp changes in the demographics each delivers? For example, iPhone users certainly skew a little bit affluent today. But will that necessarily be the case a year from now?

If the iPhone opens itself to multiple carriers next year, what impact will that have? We here at StorefrontBacktalk think this is a fascinating trend, but we strongly doubt whether the differences are truly as pronounced as they now appear. Even more critically, it's likely that to whatever extent there are some subtle buying differences today, those differences will very quickly get diluted.

Full disclosure: StorefrontBacktalk is working on our own smartphone application and phone-specific optimized sites for our content. If anything, that should bias us to expect to see a lot more preference differences. But we're still not seeing anything significant that sets various smartphone users apart from each other. Then again, we never thought ringtones would amount to anything, so take our mobile predictions with a grain of geolocation salt.