Shopping Habits of Smartphone Users & Implications for Advertisers

by Daphne Ewing-Chow on October 26, 2016

In a recent research report, we shared our findings around the rise of mobile device usage and its effect on the advertising ecosystem. We found that adults in the U.S. spend more than three hours on mobile devices each day – playing games, connecting with friends and consuming media. As consumers have shifted to mobile, so have advertisers: ad spend on mobile devices is expected to exceed $40B in 2016. in this post, we dig deeper into the psyche of consumers on mobile in order to better understand its implications on e-commerce.

The Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly provides purchase conversion rates across several device types. The chart below shows that buyers are increasingly more likely to purchase items on tablets; however, the story is quite different for mobile devices which convert at about one-third of the rate of desktop computers.


Statistics from eMarketer’s US Mobile Time and Activities Stat Pack reveal that smartphones are more of a browse or research platform rather than a buy platform, and that consumers tend to use smartphones in tandem with tablets and other larger screen devices when making purchase decisions. The eMarketer study shows that although 8 out of 10 US Smartphone users shop on their mobile devices, less than half actually buy something.


This picture is made clearer when paired with data from Signal around multiscreen shopping behaviors. According to Signal, nearly two-thirds of consumers begin the “path to purchase” on a smartphone. Among those consumers, 61% continue their shopping experience on a PC or laptop.

What’s driving the use of multiple devices along the path to purchase? The higher conversion rate on tablets and desktop computers can be attributed to convenience, perceived trust and a larger device screen. It thus makes sense that the consumer tendency to conduct research on products via mobile devices would also be based on the convenience factor. Further, the increasing convenience and trust of using apps to make retail purchases and the trend of mobile phones increasingly having larger screens is having a positive impact on mobile conversion rate, although conservatively so.

Implications for Advertisers

These findings beg the question, with the rapid increase in mobile ad spending, what would the most cost-effective ad-format be for mobile shoppers, and would this vary by type of type of item?


In terms of format, mobile video ads have the highest conversion rate of all forms of mobile ads. A study conducted by Trusted Media Brands in January reveals that video ads are expected to replace banner ads as the top mobile ad format by the end of 2016. This study found that increased brand awareness is the primary benefit of video ads on mobile.

It is clear that mobile advertising dollars should be spent in ways that facilitate comparison and research of items. Travel is one of the sectors in which this is evident. In 2016, around half of smartphone users will plan a trip using their phone, but only one quarter will actually book a trip via this medium (eMarketer). Further, given issues with trust and size of screen, it is logical to assume that higher-value items will be researched on smartphones but purchased via a larger device. That said, Criteo research has found that committed app users on average make the largest purchases, as illustrated in the diagram below. We attribute this to a higher consumer trust in apps than mobile browsers.


Based on this study, we believe that cross-device behavior should be the primary focus for both advertisers and e-retailers. For those focused on mCommerce, in app purchases and user-experience in-app should be a strategic imperative. Trust, screen size and convenience in conducting research and comparison shopping are primary criteria driving the behavior of mobile shoppers.