Why Retailers Want You to Shop on Your Phone

By: Keith Wagstaff · June 05, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mobile Moves

When you buy something online, do you use your smartphone or laptop?

It may seem like an inconsequential, even a generational, decision, but it matters to retailers. They want you clicking “Buy” on your phone because that’s where impulsive decisions are made.

Nearly half, 48%, of consumers said they made impulse purchases on their phone, according to discount site Slickdeals, via the Wall Street Journal , compared to only 19% who did the same on their laptop. During the last holiday season, e-commerce revenue from mobile surpassed desktop for the first time ever, said Adobe (ADBE).

The shift to mobile is great for online retailers, especially when consumers spend big on purchases such as flights and vacation home rentals. United Airlines (UAL) reported a 23% jump in flights booked on its app in 2023 compared to the year before, according to the Wall Street Journal. And last quarter, Airbnb’s (ABNB) app bookings jumped by five percentage points from the same time last year.

Those are purchases that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, which is great for corporate bottom lines, but maybe not so great for your budget.

The Power of Smartphones

Laptops are full of distractions. Imagine looking at a sweater online. On a laptop, you might click on another tab, answer an email, get distracted by everyday life and let your screen go idle, before you remember to return to that sweater only to change your mind.

Smartphones, on the other hand, keep consumers focused on their purchases, because it takes more “effort” to switch between apps and websites on a phone than it does on a laptop. Plus, social media algorithms are great at tempting mobile users with ads for things they’d like to buy.

If someone is looking at a product on a retailer’s app, the company can keep their attention with push notifications, special deals, and more, as well as collect their data, which can be used to boost engagement in the future.

How to Resist Impulse Buying

For consumers, this means to beware when shopping on phones, and withstand the impulse to shop when it could jeopardize their budget. To reduce impulse purchases, you first need to minimize temptation. If you’re spending a fortune on products that pop up in your social media feeds, you might want to set a screen-time limit, either through each app’s settings or a third-party service such as AppBlock.

You may also limit online shopping to your laptop, or try to stick to the 30-day rule to avoid impulse buying. Another good idea is to ask yourself a few questions before making a purchase, including “What do I gain from this?” and “Do I already own something similar?”

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