Consumers Change Screens Depending on the Task at Hand

One of the challenging things for marketers these days is to figure out how to efficiently reach consumers on the growing array of screens they interact with. The growing complexity of consumer behavior and the interplay among devices is dizzying.

Last year Google did some terrific research about the parallel and sequential usage of smartphones, tablets and conventional PCs along the path to purchase. The company found that 90% of US adults surveyed used multiple screens during the day. It's really challenging to track this behavior in real time let alone create coherent, integrated campaigns to address it. 

One of the central behaviors identified in the Google research was the multi-screen path to purchase. Consumers often start on one screen but complete transactions on another. The behavior wasn't random, however. Smartphones were found to be the most commonly used screen but people chose different screens depending on the context and nature of the task at hand. 

Harris Interactive has released similar research that reflects different user preferences and behaviors depending on the particular screen and use case. Harris found overlapping usage scenarios but also consumer preferences for one screen vs. another in several instances.

The survey sample consisted of 2,383 adults, about 42% of which owned a smartphone. However that's lower than the US mobile average of 50%+. The data were collected in November 2012. 

The question fielded was: "Thinking generally about your media and communication behavior on a smartphone versus on a computer, please indicate which of these actions you regularly perform on each." Multiple responses were permitted.

In some cases smartphones tended to be used more and in others PCs dominated. Unfortunately Harris didn't ask about tablets.

General activities (penetration/usage): 

  • Texting/messaging: 87% smartphone, 20% PC
  • Email: 90% PC, 72% smartphone (more people on smartphones read emails than compose them)
  • Researching product/services: 81% PC, 45% smartphone
  • Purchasing products: 78% PC, 23% smartphone
  • Maps/navigation: 73% smartphones, 56% PC

Social media usage (penetration/usage):  

  • Reading posts: 62% P, 56% smartphone
  • Sharing content: 51% PC, 44% smartphone
  • Composing posts/messages: 50% PC, 43% smartphone
  • Checking in: 43% smartphone, 28% PC

The presence of children in the home was correlated with increased smartphone activity across almost all categories of activity.

In looking at these data one can see that certain kinds of activities, better suited to smartphones (texting, map usage, checking in), are more often performed on mobile devices. However activities that require larger screens or where the mobile user experience is sub-optimal, favor the PC (e.g., product research, purchasing).