New Study Shows How Touchscreens Affect Consumer Behavior

Smartphones have changed our lives irreversibly. People do everything on their devices – map out directions, plan vacations, buy movie tickets, and shop for anything from laundry detergent to $2,000 Gucci bags.

There are many nuances in consumer behavior on mobile that we are still researching, but one thing is clear: context is king.

How Touchscreens Influence Purchase

A new report from the University of British Columbia – Okanagan dives into the different ways consumers think when they’re using a touchscreen device versus a desktop computer. Ying Zhu, the study’s lead author, says that consumers like the tactile experience that a touchscreen offers. “The playfulness of a touchscreen interface is more likely to put you into an experiential thinking style, which resonates with the playful nature of hedonic products,” says Zhu. Hedonic products are things that give us pleasure, like going to the movies, trying new makeup, or getting a box of chocolate.

On desktop, Zhu says people are more likely to purchase practical or “utilitarian” items like acne medication or a new washing machine. The less tactile nature of a desktop or laptop, where we use a mouse and keyboard, puts us in a rational thinking mode, meaning customers are more likely to think logically and analytically. This rational thinking style endorses the preference for utilitarian products.

However, when asked about how average order value plays into the question of purchase intents using different interfaces, Zhu says that luxury items could go in either direction – depending on the context – although that question was not a part of her study. Zhu uses the example of a customer buying a Gucci bag to explain the choice of the shopping device. If it is a first time purchase, consumers likely have many questions: Which bag has the best value? Which bag has a good review? Which retailer has the lowest price? This customer would likely sit down at the computer to conduct her research and select a product and retailer. However, if she had a successful purchasing experience, and wanted to order her sister a similar bag for her birthday, for example, she would be more comfortable pulling out her smartphone and quickly reordering a second bag.

Designing for Customers

Another factor in mobile customer behavior is site performance – namely speed. But according to Bill Chung, Mobify’s interaction designer, it’s not just about how fast your pages load, it’s about how fast (or slow) your site feels. Remember, customers crave playfulness when they use a touchscreen!

Decades ago, in an attempt to quell customer complaints about lengthy waits at the baggage claim, the Houston airport increased the number of employees to improve the measurable performance of its baggage off-loading. Wait times fell considerably – but complaints continued to roll in.

While wait times were down, the walking journey from the terminal gate to the luggage claim was so short that travelers spent most of their time standing around. “The airport executives had failed to see the true problem at hand: a human propensity for loathing unoccupied time,” says Chung. By strategically moving the arrival gates farther away from the baggage carousel, they increased traveler walking time to the baggage claim, and nearly eliminated the unoccupied time (and the complaints). “This is a real example of how the performance that people feel is more important than ‘under-the-hood’ performance,” says Chung. “The same principle applies to mobile.”

But it’s not just speed that makes customers happy on mobile. Animation in an interface can affect the perception of time and duration for your site’s visitors. Studies show that carefully implemented animation has a direct effect on cognitive load (cognitive load being a measure of mental effort).

Essentially, it’s possible that when animations are poorly designed or overly complex, you make your shoppers think harder and expend more mental energy, which may affect their decision-making process. Interface animations should ideally be an instantaneous response to a user’s touch – anything else would simply be communicating a lag or disconnect between your shoppers and your interface. Read Chung’s full article on Designing for the Appearance of Speed here.

Context is King

A 2015 study from Google, Micro-Moments: Your Guide to Winning the Shift to Mobile, explains how fragmented the shopping journey is for consumers:

“Take the oft-quoted stat that we check our phones 150 times a day. Pair it with another [study] that says we spend 177 minutes on our phones per day, and you get a pretty fascinating reality: mobile sessions that average a mere 1 minute and 10 seconds long, dozens and dozens of times per day. It’s like we’re speed dating with our phones.”  

These mobile moments are in line with Zhu’s observations. “Mobile is portable and has all the functions you can think of, but users are probably more purposeful and goal-driven when sitting in front of a desktop,” she says. “On mobile, it’s more random – you’re standing in a line-up, a thought pops into your head, and you look something up on your phone.”

Embrace Mobile to Survive

An engaging user experience is critical for surmounting the constant interruptions that consumers experience in these mobile moments. Of course, a great desktop experience is also essential, but it’s easier to achieve. The investment in mobile is what’s lacking, and also what really matters in today’s retail apocalypse.

There’s no doubt that context affects mobile touchscreen users. There are many nuances in consumer behavior on mobile that we are still researching, but one thing is clear: no company can ignore this channel if it wants to survive.

Read more about the relationship between speed and mobile commerce in our latest quarterly report, 2017 Q2 Mobile Commerce Insights Report.

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