Social Trumps Search On Smartphones But On Tablets Search Is King

smartphonesThe market is now awash in data. Each new day brings a dozen surveys or reports to my inbox. Most of these data are generated to promote individual companies but some of the metrics are nonetheless useful and interesting. A lot of the data I’m now seeing pertain to the growing importance of mobile devices and their impact on commerce.

Below are a selection of some recent data from several companies and research firms that add more color to the rapidly developing picture of mobile user behavior. For example, comScore recently reported that in Q3 one-tenth of retail e-commerce spending came from mobile devices (including tablets). We should see this percentage go up when the Q4 numbers are released early next year.

Beyond e-commerce, smartphones are playing a much more significant role as an influential part of consumers’ product research.

Tablet activity does result in e-commerce transactions. However most smartphone research is a precursor to in-store buying or later conversions on another device (i.e., PC). Despite the lack of smartphone conversions, the devices are having a profound impact on transactions and must be addressed by marketers.

In a Q3 North American consumer survey Forrester Research asked consumers where they were using their smartphones. Here’s the top locations list:

  1. In stores — 75 percent
  2. Outdoors – -74 percent
  3. In car — 74 percent
  4. While traveling — 68 percent
  5. Home (living room) — 67 percent
  6. In restaurants — 65 percent
  7. Friend’s house — 60 percent
  8. Work — 58 percent
  9. Public transit — 51 percent

These Forrester survey data are self-reported. By comparison, WiFi and local ad network provider JiWire (Q3) identified the top locations (based recorded behavior) where consumers were using mobile devices (mostly smartphones). Shopping malls, which stand as a proxy for “retail stores,” were the top location according to these data.

Released very recently, though using data from 2011, research firm GfK identified where mobile users (vs. PC users) were spending most of their time on mobile devices.

On PCs, search and social were close together in time spent. However in mobile, social grabbed much more time than search (as one might expect). This is confirmed by other pre-existing data.

In the above graphic, social captures 31 percent of user time on smartphones. It’s the top activity, followed by email and search. But tablets are much more like PC in terms of user behavior, though not identical.

Based on Q3 data comScore found that search was the top activity (by penetration) on tablets, just as it is online. However social networking was less common.

PCs, tablets and smartphones are three distinct channels that all feature distinct consumer behaviors. Though many would like to, you can’t really cheat them by offering “one size fits all” marketing to each audience.

Marketers need to understand the nuances of consumer behavior across multiple screens to be able to address each platform appropriately. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a PC site on my iPad only to see a “download flash player” notification in a large black square in the center of the screen. All one can say about that is: #fail.

PC websites don’t work on tablets (or won’t yield maximum consumer engagement). PC landing pages won’t work for smartphones either. Nor will PC ad creative. By the same token, display ads designed for smartphones won’t work on tablets.

Search ads are perhaps the only marketing vehicle that works across platforms with limited customization. But even then campaigns must be directed specifically at each screen for maximum effect.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Statistics: Market Share | Statistics: Mobile Marketing | Statistics: Social Media | 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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