When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, few fully appreciated just how significantly the release would change everything from how we communicate to how we shop. In less than a decade, mobile technology become permanently ingrained into basically every aspect of our daily lives.
Today, people have become inseparable from their Galaxies and iPhones. We sleep with our smartphones. We take them to the office, to the park, on vacation, and even – if we’re being honest – into the bathroom. We’ve even reached a point where the average smartphone user checks his or her device 150 times a day.
For business both big and small, the impact of the smartphone can most be felt in how consumers now prefer to shop. Research claims that in terms of shopping online, smartphones are the dominate method of user interaction among millennials, with 89 percent of the generation using smartphone to connect online, compared to 75 percent who use laptops, 45 percent tablets, and 37 percent who still rely on desktops.
When it comes to our purchasing habits, the type of device we use really does seem to make a difference. In fact, we’re far more likely to make impulse and guilty pleasure purchases when shopping online with a touchscreen device – such as tablets and smartphones – when compared to desktop computers, according to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia.
So what exactly is it about using a smartphone that makes us less likely to resist those impulse purchases and what can businesses do to tap into that trend?
Finger on the Pulse
Humans have always been driven by emotions, and how we feel about the digital devices we use every day is no exception.
The more we use our smartphones, the more we stimulate the parts of our brains that crave feeling connected. It’s the reason why we feel compelled to constantly check our Facebook feeds for new posts, our Instagram accounts to see who like the photos of what we had for lunch, or why we feel an irresistible urge to look at our phones whenever they buzz, chirp, or ring.
The phone has come to represent the portal we use to gain entrance into our social worlds. It sits – usually at arm’s length – waiting to connect us to friends, family, colleagues, and to our sources of news and entertainment. We’ve grown so accustomed to the freedom and limitless information offered by our smartphones that the idea of not having one is inconceivable to the vast majority of the planet.
This dependence creates behavior. The adage that “old habits die hard” is rooted in neurology. The more we engage in certain behaviors, the more likely they’re to become habits. Just as we don’t think before locking the door, putting on our seatbelt, or looking both ways before crossing the street, we have conditioned ourselves to reflexively “check in” when out at dinner or hashtag our day. When we repeatedly perform the same behavior, it becomes a pattern etched into the neural pathways of our brains.
This then creates a feedback loop. When a certain behavior makes you feel good – such as seeing 20 people like your latest post – you return to it over and over. So, if playing Minecraft or Pokémon Go on your smartphone helps you feel relaxed after a long day at work or school, the comfort and pleasure you receive from playing the game encourages you to play it again.
Smartphones Encourage Our Digital Shopping Behaviors
The way we interact with our smartphones helps to explain why consumers are more likely to make impulse purchases when tapping away on their mobile devices. The consumer culture we live in places the temptation to purchase things as simple as just clicking a few buttons. This leaves us little time to fully consider the consequences of our shopping actions. Impulse buyers are also more likely to be social and status-conscious, both of which are behaviors magnified by smartphone use.
Buying that new dress or game on a whim also triggers the same positive feedback loop that occurs whenever we check our phones. Reinforcing our decision to make that impulse purchase just makes it more likely we will engage in that behavior again.
For small businesses, these habits can be utilized to create customer relationships that positively impact the bottom line. By having a better understanding of what drives your customers, ecommerce businesses can tailor their sties to accommodate the needs of different segments of their customer base.
This process begins by listening to your customer’s digital body language and responding to the signals you pick up. Digital body language is a term that combines all of the digital moves and micros-signals made by customers, from which a business can identify patterns and habits to determine future behavior. For example, a determined customer doesn’t want to become distracted, so disable pop-ups and save them for customers that are in the information gathering stage rather than the buying stage.
By focusing on the fact that smartphones trigger certain behaviors, your business can better tailor its user experience to reinforce the behaviors that encourage customers to make purchases and that help to grow your bottom line.