An Investigation Into Online Shopping Habits: Mobile vs. Desktop

An Investigation Into Online Shopping Habits: Mobile vs. Desktop

The advent of the Digital Age, with the Internet as its centerpiece, forever transformed the way consumers shop. Online shopping, with its convenience and global accessibility, quickly progressed from a novelty to a primary channel for commerce. With the proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, the online shopping landscape has evolved even further. It gives rise to new consumer behavior patterns and digital adoption. Here's where omnichannel starts to come in.

As the digital marketplace evolves, it's vital that companies adapt along with it. Investing in one online channel is not enough to stay ahead of the curve. Rather, eCommerce businesses must offer flawless and engaging experiences on both mobile and desktop devices. Moreover, across multiple platforms and touchpoints. Lastly, in a way that provides a seamless experience for the end user.

Let's investigate the evolution of online shopping habits. Especially, in terms of mobile vs. desktop usage, and explore how eCommerce brands can leverage a holistic, omnichannel approach to achieve sustainable growth.

Omnichannel using mobile vs desktop: The evolution of online shopping

The concept of online shopping can be traced back to the 1990s, when the Internet first gained widespread popularity. Initially, online shopping was limited to desktop computers and required consumers to have a stable internet connection. (Anyone remember DSL?) As Internet penetration increased and technology advanced, online shopping platforms became more user-friendly and accessible. As a result, websites like Amazon and eBay also became much more popular. 

Nowadays, online shopping has become an integral part of life for millions of consumers around the world. According to Forbes, the global online shopping market was expected to exceed $6.3 trillion by the end of 2023. This growth can be attributed to the changing preferences of consumers. This is for those who understandably value convenience, time-saving, and a wider range of choices. Of course, COVID-19 also changed consumer buying patterns. Over 80% of consumers in the United States admitted that the pandemic significantly impacted their shopping habits.

Granted, the average consumer tends to buy certain products online more readily than others. Some categories that top the list of popular online purchases include clothing, shoes, bags & accessories, books, movies, music, games, and electronics. Still, the general populace continues to lean into digital shopping experiences, either from choice or necessity. For instance, think of all the online orders for grocery store "curbside pickup" that were placed during the height of COVID-19.

The rise of mobile shopping

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 quickly revolutionized the online shopping landscape. Mobile shopping on smartphones soon allowed consumers to make purchases on the go, anytime and anywhere. This trend has progressed to the point that now the majority of online purchases are. Moreover, many categories can be attributed to mobile shopping. In fact, one study found that mobile eCommerce sales accounted for 65.7% of total eCommerce sales worldwide in 2022.

The convenience of mobile shopping has become increasingly appealing to consumers. With features like mobile wallets, one-click purchases, and personalized recommendations, mobile devices have become indispensable tools for online shopping. The ubiquitousness of mobile apps dedicated to eCommerce has also enhanced the user experience. The changes made it even more seamless. Moreover, the simple fact is that people are using their mobile devices virtually all the time. In one report, it indicates that most American adults spend an average of 5.5 hours on their smartphone every day!

Consumer behavior: Mobile vs desktop

Forward-looking brands must do more than look at the overall trends in online shopping. Understanding the differences in consumer behavior between mobile and desktop devices is crucial for eCommerce companies to tailor their strategies effectively. Let's explore some key aspects of this divide:

Device preference

The preference for mobile or desktop shopping varies widely among consumers, depending on the context. Research indicates that almost four-fifths (79%) of smartphone users have made an online purchase with their smartphone within the last six months. Interestingly, 71% of in-store shoppers who use their smartphones for online research feel that they have become even more essential to the value and seamlessness of their in-store experience.

Browsing vs. buying

Another fascinating point is to consider is the consumer's intent in using a mobile device vs. a desktop computer. It appears that mobile devices are often used for browsing and product discovery. On the other hand, customers favor desktops for the actual transaction. In fact, one study found that desktop users had a conversion rate of 4.14% in 2019. This is compared to a conversion rate of 3.36% for tablet users, and 1.53% for smartphone users.

Factors that affect online shopping habits

There could be several factors that explain this discrepancy between mobile and desktop shopping. For instance, the smaller screen size of mobile devices can make it less convenient for consumers to make purchases. Even just the task of filling out lengthy forms. (In fact, research from Dynamic Yield found that 67% of consumers cite the "pages and links being too small" as an impediment to mobile shopping.)

At other times, customers may feel more secure making large purchases on their desktop PC or laptop. Since these devices are often used at their personal residence. As opposed, smartphones are typically used in both public and private settings. 

It seems that while the share of mobile eCommerce continues its steady climb, desktop still holds the edge in terms of conversion rate. Research seems to support this conclusion. As one study found that 85% of online purchases start on one device and are completed on another.

eCommerce companies want to shorten the gap between discovery on a mobile device. Moreover, the actual purchase is as much as possible. In many cases, mobile browsing that doesn't result in a purchase is a wasted opportunity. Therefore, many businesses have invested in frictionless payment options, shop-the-look features, and fast checkout practices to boost mobile conversion rates. These are crucial steps to take in an era where virtually everyone is browsing via their mobile devices.

Impulse buying

Another major factor to consider is the trend of impulse buying. Mobile devices, due to their constant accessibility, generally facilitate impulse buying. However, there are several subtleties in the specific type of impulse buying they promote.

For instance, one scientific study on impulse buying behavior online found that:

"The positive effects of website stimuli and marketing stimuli on consumers' internal reactions exhibit significant variations based on a situational stimulus (i.e., a non-holiday season versus a holiday season). Specifically, consumers react more sensitively to perceived website quality to form both hedonic and utilitarian values during the non-holiday season, while they focus more on prices to judge utilitarian value rather than hedonic value during the holiday season."

Based on this empirical data, it seems that online shoppers (including mobile users) tend to focus more on how a website looks when they're not under pressure to make a purchase. But when they are under pressure (such as during the holiday season), they make impulse purchases based more on price than any other consideration.

Whatever the season, it's apparent that with just a few taps on a smartphone, and within a few short seconds, consumers can and often do commit to a purchase. This "quick-trigger" behavior is further reinforced by the prevalence of social media platforms and targeted advertisements that can influence impulse buying decisions.

Contextual shopping

Context is also key when it comes to understanding what drives customer behavior in terms of mobile vs. desktop usage. Mobile devices and smartphones in particular offer the advantage of "location-agnostic" shopping. Here's why consumers can make purchases no matter where they are. For example, consumers can order groceries while commuting. Also, place a takeout order while waiting in line, or buy concert tickets while taking a break at work.

While desktop devices can't offer that level of convenience, they definitely make it easier on the average user to navigate to and browse websites. Thus, they tend to be the device of choice for consumers who plan to make bigger purchases. For instance, if someone decides to buy a car online, it is much more likely they'll do it from a desktop PC or laptop. This is more convenient than their smartphone. 

The importance of a seamless omnichannel experience

With the information discussed above in mind, it becomes more apparent than ever why it is essential for companies to provide seamless omnichannel experiences in today's digital market. Customers expect a consistent and personalized experience across various touchpoints. This includes mobile apps, desktop websites, emails, push notifications, and even physical stores. It's impossible to predict how many twists and turns a customer's journey may take; therefore, eCommerce brands must be ready to meet the individual's needs on any platform, at any time.

Here are some key factors that often contribute to a winning omnichannel experience:

1. A mobile-first approach

Considering the dominance of mobile in online shopping (at least in terms of sheer popularity), companies must adopt a mobile-first approach. This means designing mobile experiences that prioritize ease of use, quick load times, and mobile-specific features.

Businesses should also invest in inspiring or informational videos and "snackable" content. Those that will help customers in both the discovery and purchase phases. This kind of mobile-friendly content will contribute to greater confidence and peace of mind. Even when customers are making complex purchase decisions. Hence, they'll have enough information at their fingertips to make an informed choice.

In addition, optimizing mobile apps is advisable for different screen sizes. Also, in operating systems, it ensures a seamless experience for all users. Marketing initiatives should take the mobile format into account, and focus on ways to move customers through the sales funnel as they interact with the brand on their smartphone or tablet.

2. Omnichannel-friendly design

An average customer can interact with an eCommerce brand on several devices, at several times, and in several ways throughout the course of a single day. For that reason, companies should invest in responsive design, ensuring that their websites adapt to different devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. 

Just how important is responsive design in terms of attracting and retaining customers? According to one study, 73.1% of web designers believe that a non-responsive design is a top reason why visitors leave a website. On the other hand, a crisp, professional web layout that shines through on any device or platform can play a major role in growing a brand's presence and profitability.

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Moreover, design should not only be responsive, but also consistent (to the extent possible) across all marketing channels — including social media accounts and apps. This omnichannel-friendly approach will help provide a consistent, flawless user experience no matter where or how they're interacting with a brand.

3. Personalization and targeted marketing

Utilizing data analytics and customer insights, companies can personalize their marketing efforts across multiple channels. Personalization is best through targeted advertisements, recommendations, and tailored email and push notification campaigns. For example, company apps can ask users for permission to save their preferences, and subsequently send product recommendations and other promotions based on that stored data.

By delivering relevant and personalized content, companies can enhance customer engagement and increase conversion rates. In fact, research indicates that consumers are 80% more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.

4. Seamless integration

To offer flawless omnichannel experiences, companies should ensure seamless integration across their various platforms. For example, a customer's shopping cart should be synchronized across mobile and desktop devices, enabling them to add items to their cart on one platform and complete the purchase on another without any disruption.

Granted, it may take some upfront investment in the technical aspects of a marketing infrastructure to achieve such seamless transitions. Nevertheless, remember that the typical buyer's journey is, in many cases, no longer a straight line from A to B. Rather, it is more like a hallway with many doors — and you want the customer to easily open any door that leads to a purchase from your brand.

Mobile vs desktop: The digital market will continue to evolve in the coming years

As discussed previously, online shopping has come a long way in its 30-some years of existence. It has experienced a metamorphosis, from a fringe novelty to an indispensable part of everyday living. Driven by changes in consumer behavior and digital adoption, online shopping has increasingly seen the dominance of mobile devices in the eCommerce landscape — without seeing desktop PCs and laptops become obsolete.

In the final analysis, it is crucial for companies to recognize that one channel is never enough. To succeed in today's marketing world, eCommerce companies must offer flawless and engaging experiences on both mobile and desktop devices, across various platforms and touchpoints. By prioritizing a mobile-first approach, adopting responsive design, implementing personalization strategies, and ensuring seamless integration, companies can meet customer expectations and achieve sustainable growth. They can survive, and even thrive, in the highly competitive online shopping industry.


Deniz Tasyürek

Content & Brand Marketing Strategist at Storyly. Writes about mobile user behavior, user engagement, and retention. A genuine Potterhead. She also loves succulents, cats, and aerial yoga.

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