While the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, the first half-year with the pandemic is over. The seriousness of the pandemic has developed in waves, with the number of emerging cases varying by country; and, as has been shown in our previous COVID-19 trackers, overall consumer behaviors have also varied.
This week we analyzed data related to digital consumer behavior (using our proprietary COVID-19 Tracker) from January through the end of June, with an eye on examining emerging trends. We particularly focused on comparing how people use mobile devices vs. PC computers, across some of the most important use cases and online categories.
In this analysis, we wanted to simplify and put multiple types of smaller service/app categories into bigger buckets, to understand bigger trends on the high level. We categorized services in the following ways:
- Utilitarian services: business, finance, productivity, careers, and education
- Hedonistic services: entertainment, gambling, gaming, health and fitness, lifestyle, photo and video, and sports
- E-commerce: any and all shopping, e-commerce, and buying online
Business Service Usage—Productivity and Office
- There was a significant peak in people starting to use PC-centric productivity and office tools and services, as soon as COVID-19 broke free and people started to work from home—using their personal PC devices more (our panel tracks the use of personal digital devices).
- This peak in the use of productivity services was at its strongest in April—during the most significant period of lock-downs across the country.
- It is interesting to see how the use of productivity services on PC has stayed strong, all the way into summer (when there is typically a bit of reduction in the usage of these tools)—it seems that people not only adopted but continued to use productivity tools/services on PCs at a higher level than during the pre-COVID period.
- Interestingly, even though smartphones are otherwise very integrated parts of consumer behavior today, productivity tools/services did not see a significant peak in usage; however, communication and social tools, including Zoom, Google Meets, and others, were used increasingly on mobiles, too—as we highlighted in our earlier posts.
- Overall, on a total market basis (counting all usage minutes across the country, across all users and devices), productivity tools are used 2.0-2.5 times more on desktop or laptop PCs than on smartphones or tablets (mobile devices).
- Productivity and business use is still dominated by the use of PCs instead of mobiles; and, in remote work, PCs gained more in this area than mobile devices.
Free-Time-Oriented Services—Hedonistic and Leisure Apps/Sites
- We see some very interesting patterns in the use of hedonistic and leisure-oriented services; for example, altogether, mobile devices (smartphone and tablet use of web sites or any apps, counting minutes of usage across everybody in the U.S.) are used almost three times more than similar services on PC computers.
- It is clear that, on mobile, March and April saw a clear increase in the total usage of these services; but, as summer arrived and COVID-19 concerns generally lessened, usage returned to normal levels—even lower than in January and February. Perhaps, as we approached summer, and there were significant other interesting things to do besides just entertaining ourselves on mobile screens, people found other things to do than just play videos or play games on mobile!
- On PC, the usage of hedonistic services increased during the crisis, too; but, compared to mobile, the usage of these services has not yet gone down to the levels of early this year. As with productivity services, people on PCs have adopted somewhat increased usage among these services, and have not dropped these behaviors even though summer arrived.
- One explanation might be that people dropped their office desktop stations and computers—on which it is more inappropriate to spend time on free-time-related activities—and have instead started working remotely using their personal PC devices. Possibly they then found it easier to “spill off” from business use to some free-time-related activities when in a private context, and this explains the overall increased usage of PCs for free-time-related services during the first half of the year?
Shopping and E-Commerce on PC vs. Mobile
- One of our key observations is that mobile devices have overtaken PCs when it comes to using shopping- and e-commerce-related web services and apps over the past 2-3 years.
- Naturally there are more smartphones and tablets than PCs in personal use today in the U.S., so this explains part of the trend in mobile shopping overtaking PC shopping. The fact remains, however, that our consumer journey studies show that people are increasingly using mobiles in e-commerce to explore products, find new products to buy, check on details and reviews, and generically to shop. However, PCs are still more important in purchasing products and converting. But the time spent on the latter on PCs, on the total market level, is nowadays less than the time spent on mobile shopping use cases.
- It is also clear—like with leisure and business services—that, while e-commerce activity on mobile devices increased toward April, it has returned to previous levels during the summer. Mobile devices gained a lot, but returned back to the norm as summer arrived.
- However, on PC, the same trend we saw above holds also here—e-commerce activity on PCs has steadily increased over the months, and is still high during June 2020, and PCs have been taken into more active use herein during the crisis.
- Generally, e-commerce activity throughout the crisis (and still today, as the crisis is not over), is 30% higher than before COVID-19—PCs are big winners here again.
Total Device Usage Trends in Terms of Engagement (Time Spent)
- When looking at all other usage across these devices, including the ones on productivity, entertainment, and shopping—like communications and social, utilities, news, etc.—we find a significant peak in usage for both devices, culminating in April 2020 (when the crisis was at its worst).
- However, mimicking the conclusions above, again PCs have stayed high on overall usage time toward the summer, while the approach of summer has seen the total time spent on mobile devices return to pre-pandemic levels.
Generically, during the COVID-19 crisis, PCs have shown a greater increase in use than mobile devices in both business- and leisure-oriented services. People started using their PCs more during the early parts of the crisis, and usage continues to stay at a high level across all categories.
Mobile also benefited in both categories (hedonistic and utilitarian services), but has quickly returned to (or even gone below) the levels observed early this year. Perhaps it is the case that smartphones and tablets were already our key tools before the crisis, and the crisis in itself did not lead to significantly more usage or any long-lasting impact with these devices. When there was more time indoors, mobiles picked up some usage; but, as alternatives (going to restaurants, doing outdoor sports, going back to hobbies, commuting a bit, etc.) emerged, mobiles lost some of this increased usage quickly.
However, when people have been forced to stay outside of the office (where they have their separate non-personal workstations or PCs), this missing usage has transitioned into the increased usage of personal PCs we report here—in both categories.
Do you have other, alternative interpretations or explanations for these findings? We would love to chat, so email me to talk more!
How are consumers in your market using their digital devices to research purchases and shop during the pandemic? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see how data from our COVID-19 Tracker can give you actionable insights about your target digital audience.