PC Free: 46 Percent Used Only Mobile Devices In Purchase Process According To New Study

Mobile path 2 purchasePerhaps the most potent – even shocking – finding of the 2013 US Mobile Path-to-Purchase Study is that 46 percent of survey respondents said they relied exclusively on their smartphones or tablets in conducting online research across a range of purchase categories.

Nearly half of the adults involved in this study did not consult PCs as part of their pre-purchase research, search and discovery process. I was taken aback by that finding, so much so that I had to confirm and reconfirm it with xAd, one of the companies that co-sponsored the study.

While these mobile-first or mobile-only users skewed younger (18 – 34), what these data broadly mean is that consumer behavior is changing much more quickly than most marketers or brands realize.

The Mobile Path to Purchase study is in its second year and is sponsored by xAd and Telmetrics and conducted by Nielsen. The findings are based on an online survey of 2,000 US smartphone and tablet owners and “observed consumer behaviors from Nielsen’s Smartphone Analytics Panel of 6,000 Apple and Android users.”

The data are thus a mix of self-reported attitudes and information and actual behaviors.

immediacy of needs mobile path to purchase

The study looked at mobile usage broadly and in a number of verticals, including banking and finance, gas and convenience, insurance and retail. The results and findings varied by vertical in terms of the immediacy of the need, the time to conversion, the device used and other variables such as usage location.

By comparison, last year’s study focused on the Travel, Restaurant, Auto categories.

The first group of findings being publicly released today concern general mobile usage patterns and offer a few vertical insights. I was told by xAd Marketing VP Monica Ho yesterday that more data would be released later with more of a vertical focus.

The following are some of the general findings about mobile usage throughout the purchase cycle:

  •  45 percent of respondents say mobile device usage is “primary”  (“mobile first”)
  • 46 percent used mobile devices exclusively (as mentioned)
  • 49 percent use PC (w/internet) as their primary media tool or resource
  • 54 percent of all mobile device owners indicated use of additional media tools and channels to help with purchase decisions
  •  50 percent of all mobile users rely on their devices at the beginning of the research process, with roughly 33 percent reporting usage of their smartphones and tablets throughout the entire process

As a broad generalization, the study found that tablet usage was still predominantly in the home, whereas smartphones tended to be used more on the go — though, again, it varies by category. Other research has shown that smartphones are used equally if not more in the home vs. outside the home.

Time to purchase

The study also looked at purchase intent and conversions. While mobile users have a typically higher purchase intent than PC users, the study found that the timing of purchases varied considerably by category (e.g., insurance vs. retail). Regardless of the time to purchase, 60 percent of smartphone users in the study and 53 percent of tablet users completed purchases related to their mobile research.

Most of the smartphone conversions happened “offline,” by phone or in a store or other business location. By contrast, there was much more traditional e-commerce happening on tablets:

  • 54 percent of tablet related purchases were completed online
  • 74 percent of smartphone-related purchases were completed “offline” (in stores or over the phone)

The importance of location and local relevance were also reaffirmed. The study found that local data and locally relevant information were in high demand among mobile consumers:

Location, offline offers and promotions [are] the top reasons for purchase selection. In fact, nearly 1 out of 3 smartphone users and 1 out of 4 tablet users reference their device specifically for contact information such as a phone number, address or map and driving directions.

The majority of consumers (60 percent) expected businesses to be within walking or local driving distance from their current location.

(Emphasis added.)

On the perennial question of apps vs. the mobile web usage, the study found that most smartphone owners went directly to branded apps or familiar websites (57 percent). On tablets content discovery methods varied greatly by category, often involving apps, but very often not. Tablet activity and usage patterns resemble PC behavior much more than do smartphone patterns.

These findings and survey results — and they go much deeper than the appetizer portion above — should serve if nothing else as stern kick in the pants for marketers who’ve been dragging their heels or underinvested in mobile to date. Now’s the time to get very serious — or risk losing perhaps half your audience.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Mobile Marketing | Statistics: Mobile Marketing | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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