Mobile web could be a cognitive problem

Mobile ShoppingYou can’t move these days for advice about the “mobile web”. E-commerce “experts” tell us that before too long half of all online purchases will be made using a mobile device. Then we get the likes of Microsoft about to shake up the world of tablets by launching Windows 8 and their “surface” all at the same time next month. It seems as though everyone wants the Internet in their pocket.

Except one thing. The people promoting the mobile web appear to have forgotten to check human behaviour. And therein lies some interesting information. It seems that emails are checked on desktop and mobile devices in equal amounts these days. Also, social media is a significant use of a mobile device. In other words we perceive mobile phones and tablets as “communication devices” – not desktop replacements. Indeed, it seems that currently only one in five purchases is “triggered” using a mobile device. That means eight out of ten of us do not use mobile devices to buy things. Worse still for the mobile pundits is that of the 20% of shopping which is triggered using mobile devices, most of the actual completions of the purchases are made on a desktop machine.

Part of the problem could be where we use mobile devices. The very nature of being mobile means we are not at our desks – we are out and about. And out and about means being in places where you cannot control the noise. At your desktop you can often shut the door, or at least ask your office neighbours to be quiet while you think. However, while you are in a shop with background music playing, other shoppers chatting and babies crying it is rather difficult to concentrate.

However, there is new research which shows that the real impact of environmental noise is that it interferes with our short-term memory. And when we are using the web that’s exactly what we need to be working really well. We need to be able to quickly recall the navigation structure, for instance. When we click through, we need to remember what we saw before the new page arrives so that we can recall what to go back to if necessary. Plus we might need to hold prices in our heads while we make comparisons on other sites. With noise all around us those short-term memory tasks become difficult. And that is probably one reason why we are not going to be doing as much shopping online as the experts might think – we will find it too difficult.

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3 thoughts on “Mobile web could be a cognitive problem”

  1. Hi Graham
    I hope you’re well.
    I smiled when I read this bit:
    “Indeed, it seems that currently only one in five purchases is “triggered” using a mobile device. That means eight out of ten of us do not use mobile devices to buy things. Worse still for the mobile pundits is that of the 20% of shopping which is triggered using mobile devices, most of the actual completions of the purchases are made on a desktop machine.”
    It reminded me of something I read about the web a few years ago, paraphrased as:
    … only one in five purchases is “triggered” using the web. That means eight out of ten of us do not use the web to buy things. Worse still for the web pundits is that of the 20% of shopping which is triggered using the web, most of the actual completions of the purchases are made in a shop.”
    😉
    I know companies that have witnessed a ten fold increase in on phone purchases over the last 12 months; and whilst mobile will not work for everybody or all companies/products/services it’ll take a brave CEO/CTO/CMO to dismiss it.

    • Yes, I wasn’t suggesting we should dismiss mobile – rather get it into perspective. Some products do lend themselves to mobile purchase, but many do not. It is all about markets, buyer behaviour and so on rather than taking a blanket approach which many people seem to do with statements I hear like “we MUST have an e-commerce app”…really who says it is a requirement…?

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