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Mobile vs Desktop: 13 Essential User Behaviors

Mobile vs Desktop: 13 Essential User Behaviors

So, you’re thinking about going mobile?  You’ve heard something about it being “the next big thing”, that will completely change the way users interact with your website. But the truth is mobile has already arrived and it’s here to stay. Just ask the 85% of people who say that mobile devices are a central part of their everyday life.

We know users keep their devices nearby, check them frequently, and occasionally use multiple devices at once, in order to consume information and convert. But what do they actually click on, explore, download, buy and avoid on their mobile devices, versus doing the same actions on a desktop?

Using the Internet over a handheld device is an entirely different experience as that of using it on desktop. We’re keen on finding out what the behavioral differences between users are and establishing a foundation for your mobile strategy. We’re here to help you understand users, so you can begin crafting better experiences for all of them.

1. Mobile User Activity Usually Peaks During Morning and Evenings

They say “Timing is everything” and they’re not wrong. As we’ve said before, understanding how users divide their time across devices is a critical point in optimizing your mobile strategy.

Research conducted at Microsoft and by the Financial Times shows that mobile user activity usually peaks during morning (6AM to 9AM) and evenings (6PM to 11PM), while desktop users performed their online activities mostly during working hours (9AM to 6PM). Taking into account these timing differences, the point is that both mobile and desktop users are on the website. What they’re doing there is a different story.

Research conducted at Microsoft

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2. Consider the Different Nature of Objectives When Browsing

Let’s think about it from a personal but practical perspective. When browsing, you grab a laptop and satisfy your curiosity for products or services. If, however, you’ve got a specific intent in mind, you reach for your smartphone and perform a quick search. As it turns out, mobile users are generally on the hunt for specific information, while time consuming activities are usually reserved for the comfort of PCs.

When it comes to various technical and physical limitations, users tend to benefit most from spending time browsing on their desktops rather than their smartphone. Just ask the 71% of mobile users who ran against a non-mobile-optimized website and immediately bounced back to their search results, according to Forbes and Econsultancy.

3. Content is King, for Both Types of Device Users

According to a 2022 Mobile Behavior Report, over 9 out of 10 users say that access to content however they want it is somewhat or even very important. When it comes to types of content, we’ve talked about how users generally don’t browse websites on their mobile device, but research indicating that mobile users scan rather than digest content has also been indicative of the way content needs to be presented in order to effectively reach mobile customers. A lower attention span is specific to mobile users, who prefer situation-related and leisure-themed content.

4. Desktop Users Still Earning top Engagement Numbers

Now that we’ve already established that users are always on the hunt for a better Internet experience, we should take a look at what’s happening on the actual website, in terms of user engagement. According to Search Engine Watch, desktop visits last 3 times longer on average than mobile visits, with more pages viewed and half the bounce rate. The reason isn’t hard to guess: when mobile users land on a page, they don’t want to pinch and resize, they demand a mobile-friendly, responsive design to guarantee a smooth browsing.

With that in mind, after it adopted a responsive design, entertainment website found that 37% of its total traffic is mobile and that these visitors show a high level of engagement because of the ease of use.

5. Consider What Users are Looking for on Your Website

To understand what users are looking for, when browsing either on mobile or on desktop, we have to look at their motivations. It’s these slight nuances that provide insights and, most practical, a foundation for how to manage content effectively for consumption across devices. There’s no doubt that user motivations on smaller devices differ from those on desktop, but what exactly does that mean?

Basically, it means that the needs of a mobile visitor on your website tend to be more utilitarian. Think of them as distracted, with less time to spend browsing and often with a specific goal in mind: productivity. A global study by GfK and BlackBerry Limited has shown that 69% of business smartphone users are “constantly looking for new ways to get things done as efficiently as possible”. On the other hand, desktop users are more open to design elements, such as boxed testimonials of quotes, which may not support their main informational needs directly.

6. Time Spent on Page Matters More than You Think

There’s no doubt about it, mobile users are impatient — particularly, as IBM Insights on Business notes, if your target audience is mostly young. According to KISSmetrics, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. That means that people are willing to invest less time into waiting for your website as they are waiting for an elevator, with 46% of mobile web users reported as unlikely to return to a website they had trouble accessing in the past.

One reason behind this might be that, with such a large volume of information literally at hand, mobile users rarely go idle: a page is either the single open, active page on the device or it is closed. By contrast, desktop users frequently open tabs, leave them idle, and come back to them over and over, which according to Charbeat, is not necessarily a bad thing. Their study of user browser behavior showed that “the amount of time that people spend idle on landing pages actually correlates positively with their likelihood of returning to your site on future days.”

7. User Preference for Apps vs. Web Sites is Still Debatable

This is where it gets a bit tricky. Publications such as Marketing Land and Flurry have reported time and time again that the bulk of internet time is devoted to PCs and mobile apps, with desktop taking 40%, mobile apps reaching 52% and mobile web with only 8%. According to Sitepoint, the demise of the desktop apps has long been predicted in favor of browser-based models, with it being less practical and more expensive to develop them. Just try asking a Windows desktop PC user about the last time they installed new software. They might not remember.

The mobile browser has also apparently become a “single application swimming in a sea of apps”, with data from Nielsen on mobile media time showing the user preference for mobile apps which account for 89% of media time in mobile.

monthly usage mobile app devices

If, however, we take into consideration the fact that users spend more than 80% of their time on just 5 or so heavily used apps – most run by Facebook and Google – the situation changes completely.

Why? Because what most of these apps do is direct to the web, where users are met with issues that we’ve addressed before: volume of information vs. time spent on page. Research conducted by Morgan Stanley and comScore has decisively shown that “US mobile browser audiences are 2X larger than app audiences across the top 50 mobile web properties” and only 12 of the top 50 mobile properties have more traffic coming from apps than the browser.

8. Mobile Users are Younger and More Receptive

As the age of the first cell phone keeps getting younger and younger, age has become another factor with relevance in user behavioral differences. With over 85% of Generation Y owning smartphones, users aged 18-24 are significantly more likely to spend more time on their smartphones compared to users over the age of 25. They also tend to be more receptive to branded content than their desktop counterparts, according to a study conducted by Twitter.

The generation gap seems to also be thinning, with 55-64 year olds are also joining the smartphone revolution.

9. Gender Differences Emerge in User Behavior

While age does play a role in the divide between mobile and desktop users, this technology doesn’t have a gender divide, at least when it comes to smartphone ownership. Gender differences do, however, emerge in what users seek in a mobile brand. According to a 2022 Mobile Behaviour Report, females are significantly more to place a higher importance on access to content any way they want it (93% of females, compared to 87% of males). Meanwhile, males place a significantly higher value on the company being a technology leader (76% of males felt this was somewhat or very important, compared to 62% of females).

Gender bias also affects shopping habits: of the 46% that reported making a purchase through a mobile device, males (54%) were significantly more likely to make an online purchase through a mobile device compared to their female counterparts, while women were significantly more likely than men to make an online purchase through a computer (69% of females did this, vs. 58% of males).

10. Mobile Users are More Open to Location Sharing

With new cyber security and privacy threats emerging daily, users seem to be divided in their feelings about location sharing, more so when it comes to sharing their personal information with brands. This is especially true for desktop users, since most desktops are either located at home or in the office.

On one hand, 63% of users who don’t use this feature simply don’t want to share their location. Mobile users are especially weary of the aspect as it decreases battery life. On the other hand, 76% of those who do use the feature have acknowledged that it helps them receive more meaningful content. In fact, according to Google, 61% of smartphone users say they’re more likely to buy from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.

11. Users Prefer Researching on Mobile, Purchasing on Desktop

Mobile commerce has changed the way users behave. Today, not only can you order exactly what you want no matter where a retailer is located, but you can also check reviews and compare prices while on the go. In fact, when in store, 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision and mobile shopping-related searches have increased by 120% in the last year, as a review of Google data shows.

While mobile internet usage is on the rise, people still tend to switch to desktops to complete their transaction. According to Appsee, 37% of mobile users still said that while they used their mobile device to do research, but they still went to the desktop to make the purchase. But this is not necessarily bad news for marketers. According to MasterCard, customers who shop both online and off with a specific retailer buy 250% more on average, so omni-channel shoppers might be more valuable in the long run.

12. Pre-purchase Research is Driving Mobile Conversions up

The rules of customer satisfaction have changed a lot in recent years and these days consumers are more are more aware and informed of their options than ever before. Research conducted by Nielsen, xAd, and Telmetrics suggests that nearly half of the users they surveyed rely exclusively on their mobile devices for pre-purchase research, and that 30% of smartphone users and 25% of tablet users have immediate needs and purchase within an hour.

Speaking in terms of the sales funnel, top of funnel or even mid funnel users rely only on their mobile devices for pre-purchase research, with users spending more than 15 hours per week on it.

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13. Users are Spending More, Visiting less

In order to properly understand conversion rates across devices, we first have to consider what’s going on with retail stores today. According to a research conducted by Google, even though foot traffic has declined, users seem to be spending more when they visit. That’s because they’ve done their research and made the decisions before ever walking in. A similar thing is happening when users visit websites using a desktop or laptop. They typically spend less time per visit but convert more often.

An increase in mobile sessions and a decrease in time spent might lead you to conclude that users aren’t finding what they want on mobile. But actually, mobile conversion rates have shot up by 29% in the last year alone. That’s because people would rather make small-budget impulse purchases from their mobile phone, such as event tickets, gift cards, food or electronics.

Conversion rates are still highest offline, with 82% of customers choosing to purchase in store,  45% on their home desktop or tablet and only 17% on mobile phone. Across devices, Smart Insights has quoted the Monetate Q4 2021 Ecommerce Quarterly, showing that Smartphone add-to-cart and conversion rates are much lower than for desktop, and Conversion XL claiming that people switch between devices anywhere between 21 to 27 times an hour.

Mobile conversion rates by device


Now for the gist of it all.

Want to cater to mobile users’ needs and tastes? Here’s what to focus on:

  • A fast website that offers an instant response
  • Accurate and up to date information
  • Easy navigation
  • Fast, secure check-out
  • And even information adapted to their context, if you’re using location or other data inputs as a factor.

Given Google’s preference for mobile optimized websites in mobile searches, checking all the boxes above could also get you a higher ranking.

Be sure to consider all your points of contact with mobile users and meet them with readily available and relevant experiences each time. Proving yourself as a reliable source of information will make them come back again and again. Examine all phases of the user journey to map moments when people want to find inspiration, learn about your products, make a quick purchase, or anything in between. Every element should converge, to the extent of your resources, to a tailor-made moment.

Want to increase your mobile sales? Target tablet shoppers. According to Business Insider, conversion rates and average order value are both higher on tablets than on smartphones. Tablets come with bigger, better screens, more detailed product views than smartphones. In a way, tablets are more similar to desktops than smartphones. And remember: most tablets are only Wi-Fi enabled. The user is probably sitting at home, on his/her couch, so make sure to picture the details when you built your design, content and so on.

Rather than guessing what the user is trying to achieve on a mobile device, start testing each assumption you have. Analyze these small (or big) experiments so you can make better, more educated guesses in the future. Mobile users are constantly changing and so is technology. But one fact stands the test of time: users will always seek relevant, actionable information that helps them better their lives. And your purpose is to help them achieve exactly that.

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