NEW YORK: Smartphones are rapidly reshaping consumer retail habits, research covering ten countries around the world has revealed.

Accenture, the consultancy, partnered with survey firm Lightspeed Research to interview 1,000 people, drawn from Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and US.

Participants all had internet access at home through a PC or netbook, and carried a mobile phone when on the move.

The study reported that 79% of smartphone owners would find it "useful" to download money-off coupons directly to their handset.

A further 73% were interested in being sent discount vouchers when passing a product which was on offer in a store.

Accenture thus suggested the combined forces of technology and the economic downturn have encouraged price-conscious consumers to explore different retail channels and information sources.

Moreover, 73% of people boasting devices such as Apple's iPhone would rather utilise this gadget to complete "simple tasks" while shopping than speak to an employee.

By contrast, just 15% stated a preference for asking a member of staff when seeking to acquire basic details about products.

Similarly, 71% of the same audience liked the idea of finding a store with a desired item in stock via their phone, measured against 17% who favoured talking to company representatives.

Elsewhere, 69% of smartphone subscribers were "aware" of the applications provided by major retailers.

Some 48% of Accenture's sample had accessed at least one app developed by a well-known chain, of which 90% described it as either "useful" or "very useful".

Given this, Accenture argued location-based services, alongside a greater range of payment and m-commerce facilities, could play a key role in generating a competitive advantage going forward.

The consultancy also found 56% of smartphone customers polled believed these tools should make shopping more enjoyable.

Looking ahead, 48% of contributors currently using conventional cellphones intend to buy a smartphone in the next 12 months, meaning nascent shifts in behaviour might quickly gather pace.

"Smartphones will permanently change the relationship between the store and the shopper," Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture's Retail practice, said.

Digitally empowered customers could increasingly come to expect a "seamless" experience across bricks-and-mortar outlets, fixed internet and wireless devices, she added.

"Ultimately, this trend will lead to a new definition of the store; purpose, place and size are all up for debate," said Hoffman.

"Already we are seeing some shoppers treating stores more like a showroom to test products and then making their purchase online."

A core worry cited by panellists was privacy, as 54% expressed a concern that smartphones may exert a negative impact in this area.

Other issues related to losing the "personal touch" from staff in stores on 59%, and the possibility goods and services might become more expensive on 39%.

"Companies need to use all of their customer information to better understand how and when their customers want to engage with them, ask them questions or just check some basic product details," Hoffman said.

"Only then can they deliver a personalised and enjoyable experience, while lessening the risk of alienating customers through unwanted approaches."

Data sourced from Accenture; additional content by Warc staff