Shopping by Smartphone: Is It Really a Thing?

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Total digital media usage time rose by 62% between June 2013 and June 2016, driven mostly by mobile apps and, to a lesser extent, by the mobile web. App usage is rising among all age groups, with millennials spending the most time using apps, and the strongest growth coming in the 55- to 64-year old age group, up 37% year over year in 2016.

The distribution of mobile app type spent by content category shows that 20% of a user’s time is spent with social networking apps and 16% of the time is spent on music apps. Games account for 12% of time spent with mobile apps, with multimedia apps nabbing 7% of a user’s time and instant messaging getting 5%. Retail apps ring up just 4% of time spent on mobile apps.

And all retail apps are not created equal. Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) accounts for more than a third (34%) of mobile retail app usage. Second-ranked eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) accounts for just 8%.

The most popular apps typically get space on a smartphone user’s home screen. The top four apps found on most users’ home screens are YouTube, Google Maps, Facebook and Amazon.

All the data were reported in comScore’s 2016 Mobile App Report.

Because about nine of every 10 minutes of smartphone users’ time spent with apps is spent on their top five favorites, nearly half of all users don’t download any new apps in an average month. And retailers have to compete with games and social media apps to get attention, a tough battle by any measure.

Andrew Lipsman, comScore’s vice president of marketing and insights, told The Washington Post that the research suggests that e-commerce sellers might need to think differently about getting their apps in front of shoppers: “I think the retailers should be a lot more active in how they should incentivize people to download apps.”

comScore pointed out three key takeaways:

  1. More time is being spent on smartphone apps, but most of that time is concentrated in the highest engagement apps owned by a few of the largest internet companies.
  2. While we haven’t yet reached ‘Peak App’ the market is definitely tightening, and app publishers need to rethink how to break through to the consumer’s screen.
  3. Digital publishers must have a well-developed platform strategy for converting their large mobile web audiences into highly engaged, loyal app users.

Using a smartphone to shop may be gaining in popularity, but with the exception of Amazon, the gains are small at best.