Mobile Purchase Paths Are Still Product-Specific

Technology is a great enabler, but it often can cloud judgment. Our gadget-centric, hype-driven marketing culture has an annoying tendency to presume that “disruptive” platforms like mobile “disrupt” everything all in the same ways. The faith in the gadget often overwhelms good judgment about how a new technology like mobile does not transform behaviors so much as enter into a soup of received traditions and familiar buying and product consideration patterns.

Which is to state the obvious…that always seems to need restating regardless. Just because I can buy a similarly equipped used car from another dealer straight from my iPhone in a competitor’s lot doesn’t mean that I will start treating a car purchase the way I do book buying at Barnes & Noble. It is an extreme example. But the point is that mobile media does bend the purchase path in new ways for certain products. And mobile is not going to redefine wholly or quickly how we shop across all segments.



A new study from Nielsen along with xAds and Telmetrics underscores this idea. David Gill, VP of emerging media at Nielsen, will be presenting this in greater detail at next week’s Mobile Insider Summit in Lake Tahoe. But a top-line scrape of that data here shows how shoppers in different categories are leveraging mobile in diverse ways.

For instance, this combined survey of users and analysis of actual on-device behaviors shows how different purchase timing is across categories. For instance, among those doing mobile look-ups for restaurants, 87% said they were looking to make a final decision and purchase within the next day. But in the travel category only 33% considered themselves a day away from purchase. Research really is the key here. In the auto category, however, there was a mix of people ready to convert and researchers. Forty-nine percent of look-ups on the auto category actually were looking to purchase the same day. I gather there really are a lot of people on auto lots making snap decisions.

Whatever the lag between look-up and purchase, mobile searches are very strong indicators of intent. According to this research, 85% of those looking up restaurant information ultimately are making a purchase, but that is also true for 51% of auto searchers and 46% of travel look-ups. For mobile advertising, this should be very good news indeed. That means that well-targeted promotions have a very high likelihood of grabbing customers with very high intent.

The idea I floated in my last column -- that mobile devices are coming to be identified by consumers as a “here-and-now” tool -- is given some credence by this study. Up to 84% of information searches are looking for a business location or leading to map and direction look-ups, and up to 73% are looking for a business phone number. This sense of the medium as a localized tool translates to receptiveness to advertising. The survey found that users typically are noticing and clicking on ads that have local relevance or are offering promotions and offers that can be redeemed live and locally.

I think one of the interesting mobile habits developing in recent years has been the under-appreciated place that mobile has in cross-platform research. If marketers want to consider the new path to purchase, then mobile has to be seen within the larger context of a multi-screen process. In the early days of mobile content (remember WAP?), publishers told me about the surprising use of email functionality in articles that people accessed on their phones. And the recipient of those email forwards most often was the user himself or herself. People were using mobile as a triage tool. Rather than do a deep dive into content, they were scanning for the stuff they wanted to read later and emailing it to themselves. I was speaking with an e-commerce platform supplier who works with many SMBs in the small mail-order and one- and two-person shop category. He told me that his very small businesses are already seeing up to 20% of their traffic coming from mobile devices even as only a very small share (single digits) are actually converting to make m-purchases from the device.

All of this points to the need for brands to make it easier for people to research on devices and move that process back to the desktop or tablet at will. One of the things I have not seen much of on mobile apps and sites is the direct connections back to one’s Web experience. One of the things I like about vendors like Amazon is that the app and the site accounts are fully synchronized. I can use my Amazon app to build a shopping cart or even designate products to a Wish List that I can research more fully and order from my Web browser later.

As Nielsen and XAd/Telmetrics rightly point out here, every vertical will be different in terms of the way that mobile figures into the purchase path. In fact, the companies are releasing vertical-specific reports over the next few months, available here.  But I think the next stage in mobile marketing needs to start building mobile experiences that are more fully aware of and streamline the cross-platform, multi-screen research-to-purchase path as it moves back and forth across displays.


1 comment about "Mobile Purchase Paths Are Still Product-Specific".
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  1. Annisa Farese from Pandemic, August 14, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.

    High-level findings from the study were officially released today! Check out to download now!

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