Google: Search the primary and most often used mobile shopping tool

Google has quite successfully pivoted toward mobile over the past few years. And while more searches now happen on mobile devices, it has been hotly debated whether search plays as central a role for mobile consumers as it does for desktop users.

Earlier this week, Google released survey data that assert search has indeed become a primary resource for smartphone owners. In addition, it’s the most frequently used shopping tool for mobile consumers, according to the findings.

Earlier this year, Google polled 1,000 smartphone users “several times a day for a week” (throughout the day) to understand their mobile shopping behaviors. The company says it collected more than 14,000 responses in the process.

Here’s the major finding: “Not only is search the most used [mobile] resource, it’s the resource 87 percent of people turn to first.” The chart below reflects the hierarchy of tools and resources mobile consumers utilized to fulfill their shopping needs.

Resources mobile shoppers use

Source: Google/Purchased Digital Diary, “How Consumers Solve Their Needs in the Moment,” n=1,000 smartphone users, May 2016.

According to the survey, 70 percent of in-store buyers used their mobile devices for research before purchase. In particular, mobile search usage lead to transactions: “92 percent of those who searched on their phone made a related purchase.” The actions that “most commonly preceded a purchase” (among a range of categories) were “used a search engine” and “visited a store location” in equal measure.

Google also made the point that mobile devices are used throughout the purchase cycle — not just immediately before purchase — and often for what might be described as “top of funnel” behavior:

While search has long been useful to help with quick tasks like looking up a dinner recipe, it’s also widely used to make progress on long-term projects. In fact, 68 percent of people used search to help with things they want to address at some point in the future, the highest of any other online or offline source. And those searches for future needs largely happen on mobile with 97 percent of people searching on a mobile phone to do so.

Recently released data from Thrive Analytics reinforce this point and show that mobile devices are widely used for general research early in the purchase process. Searching for “general information” while “at home” was the most common use case for mobile devices in the Thrive study.

I don’t question the veracity of the findings. However, I do believe that this research carries an “agenda.” Google is by implication trying to combat the widespread perception that social is the dominant mobile use case and that search is a kind of secondary tool — at least when it comes to shopping.

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