Development + Strategy

The Dramatic Uptick in Shopping on Mobile is all about Comfort


Ben Wilson
Ben Wilson

on 11/25/2019

We keep an eye on a lot of trends here at VIA – but one of the most dramatic that we’ve seen in the past couple of years is the dramatic uptick in users completing ecommerce transactions on mobile. Not just shopping/reviewing/researching – but making major purchases on mobile.

Case in point is one of our favorite clients, and below is mobile vs. desktop ecommerce data. Before you read this info, here’s their situation:

  • the majority of their business is online
  • with “broadly average consumers”
  • with a high dollar value (usually north of $100 / transaction)
  • and they haven’t redesigned their ecommerce system in years
  • and their product offerings haven’t changed

The data below is a percentage of number of transactions (not revenue) by device :

Year: Desktop, Mobile, Tablet 2015: 65%, 25%, 9% 2016: 64%, 28%, 7% 2017: 58%, 35%, 7% 2018: 50%, 43%, 7% 2019: 47%, 46%, 7% (so far)

Data Summary

In the span of 5 years, they’ve gone from a 2-to-1 desktop-to-mobile ratio to a 1-to-1 ratio. Also note the eye-wateringly quick acceleration towards mobile in just the last 3 years, and 2019 isn’t even done yet! By the end of the year (and with a redesign of their ecomm system forthcoming – hint hint), mobile will be #1.

And I know what you are thinking: “But Ben, this is just one client!” – yes, it is, BUT we’ve seen it consistently and even more pronounced with clients with younger or more tech-savvy audiences. This is really happening.

So What’s Happening?

So with the caveats mentioned earlier – same ecommerce flow, relatively same products, relatively same pricing, happening to multiple clients – one has to wonder just WHAT is going on? Well, I have some (educated) guesses:

My Current Hypotheses

In ascending order of impact:

1. (Older) consumers are savvier

The people with the money are becoming savvier and more comfortable with digital purchasing.[1] The Boomers (65+) and even some of the Greatest Generation (80+) are now far more comfortable with their iPhones than they were 5 years ago.[2] Part of the reason they are more comfortable is:

2. Phones are bigger

This might seem silly, but with phones dramatically increasing in size – I believe that it’s far easier to for consumers to do in-depth research while on their phone. Bigger displays lead to bigger photos, easier to read text and easier to navigate product information. Not to mention accessibility features like enlarged text (peek over your grandma’s shoulder next time you see her phone out …).

Generally, I believe all of this leads to consumers feeling more confident about their purchase. No more “I’ll complete the purchase when I’m at my laptop”. You’ll do it now.

3. Customer support is better because consumers spoke up

Pre- and post-purchase communication and support has gotten much better in the past few years – and much of that (I believe) is because y’all realized you could complain to Delta on Twitter! But generally, the tools that sellers have to conduct that communication (e.g. Mailchimp) have made this so much easier. Online chat, easy-to-read FAQs, post-purchase automated communication triggers, and pro-active support have all had an impact here.

And… this lead to consumers feeling far more confident.

4. Your Credit Card Got Hacked Dozens of Times and You Didn’t Go Bankrupt

Payment processing and the general feeling that someone, somewhere was going to run away with all your money (or make you spend days resolving it) was a legit fear years ago. Now, however … your credit card has AI technology and a full-time staff there just to make getting you a new card nearly painless. Now? They’ve got your back – so yeah, go ahead and order those Korean facemasks from that dodgy website.

5. The Amazon Effect

This is the big one … in many ways, Amazon does ecommerce very poorly. Their user experience in some spots of their website is terrible. Ever try buying a Kindle book on an iPhone? OMG. Ever try updating your payment info? YIKES. What’s up their product pages? Why do I have to scroll two miles to the reviews??

But enough slagging Amazon for poor UX – they do get a lot right:

Amazon is quick. Everything about it is quick. The search results. Quick. The checkout process. Quick. The payment processing. Quick. The Amazon Prime shipping. SO QUICK I couldn’t even say “Quick” and it was already on my doorstep – on a Sunday! Hell, even the ability to RETURN an item is quick. They shipped you the wrong thing? KEEP IT.

All of that, I think has had two major effects:

First, that quickness and responsiveness is expected. Other retailers have followed suit.

Secondly – and most importantly – consumer’s confidence in Amazon, and ecommerce generally, has taken an axe to the irrational fears surrounding ecommerce transactions.

There’s an amazing amount of trust around Amazon [3], and Amazon is the gorilla of ecommerce.

What It All Means

Comfort. It’s all about comfort – if you aren’t confident, you aren’t comfortable. If you can’t get the info you need, you aren’t confident.

There have been a lot of concurrent changes in the last few years – bigger phones, better customer support, faster apps, websites and shipping – and I think all of them have come together to produce a critical mass of comfort for the consumer.


Footnotes and Further Reading:

1 – Forget Generational Stereotypes, Baby Boomers Are Just As Addicted To Smart Phones As Millennials

  • “On average, Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are on smart phones five hours a day. That’s almost the same amount of time on a phone as millennials – those born between 1981 and 1995 – who clock in over five-and-a-half hours per day”
  • “millennials spend more time making old fashioned phone calls to talk to peers and family than Baby Boomers do.”

2 – Demographic targeting: How different generations use mobile apps

  • “Mobile penetration is growing for this age group, with 65.6% of Baby Boomers in the U.S. owning a smartphone in 2018 and 55% of them having a tablet. They’re downloading apps that mainly help them with healthy living, travel and shopping to make life easier. In the U.S., 52% of Baby Boomers said they use retail apps to collect more information about a product or service, whereas 40% have used a retail app to buy a product or a service.”

3 – Survey: Consumer trust may be Amazon’s true competitive advantage

  • “Unlike other online retailers, 67% of Amazon customers trust the company to protect their privacy and personal data.”
  • “In a shareholder letter (.pdf) filed with the SEC in April, Amazon said it had more than 100 million Prime subscribers globally. The NPR/Marist poll estimates that 64 percent of online shoppers now belong to Amazon Prime. The poll generated an extrapolated estimate of 75 million US Prime subscribers, with an additional 35 million who use a friend or family member’s account.”
  • “As with several other polls in the recent past, the NPR/Marist survey found that Amazon beats Google as the starting point for online shopping or product search.”

Thanks to Nick Wunderlin for research assistance!

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