Task and Frequency Factor into Smartphone Owners’ Browser vs. App Decisions

October 8, 2015

MBD-Consumer-Use-Mobile-Browser-or-App-by-Industry-Oct2015Consumers’ decision to use mobile applications or browsers may boil down in large part to the task at hand, with browsers preferred for research-intensive tasks and apps more commonly used in industries where regular engagement occurs. That’s according to findings from a new Millward Brown Digital study [download page] that looks into the rationale behind app and browser preferences.

The study shows that for industries where research and price comparisons are often required, consumers are more likely to say they mostly use browsers rather than apps. For example, a majority claim to mostly use browsers for the consumer electronics (60% mostly using browsers), hotel (61%) and auto (72%) industries. By contrast, a majority rely mostly on apps when interacting with the online banking (73% mostly using apps), retail (64%) and wireless (61%) industries, with engagement presumably being more frequent in these verticals.

In delving further into some of these industries, the report shows that the ability to browse different websites without downloading an app for each is a key factor in mobile browser use. Indeed, this is the top-cited reason for preferring browsers when conducting shopping activities and engaging in media consumption.

Further, in analyzing four key industries, the report finds that browsers are typically used during the research and purchase stages, while apps are more commonly used for servicing activities after consumers become frequent customers of the brand. Specifically:

  • A plurality of respondents mostly use a mobile browser to compare prices across hotels (51%) and book hotels (43%), though there’s almost an even split between browser and app use when logged into a loyalty program;
  • Browsers are more frequently used than apps for researching product information or prices and for purchasing consumer electronics;
  • There’s a strong skew towards browser use when shopping for wireless plans, but a similarly strong skew towards apps when checking account balances or usage; and
  • Searches for information about different online banks typically take place in mobile browsers, although most use apps to check account balances or recent transactions.

One interesting finding from the report is that among the top 30 mobile properties by unique visitors, 59.2% visited via browser and 60.3% via app. That seems to be in contrast to recent research from comScore, which demonstrated that the mobile web tends to attract larger audiences than apps, which instead benefit from deeper engagement. It’s possible that the discrepancy hinges on what Millward Brown Digital (MBD) defined as a top mobile property.

Where the comScore and MBD studies are more in agreement is in the concentration of app use. According to the MBD results, 71% of respondents average 6 or fewer apps used per day, even though more than half report having 40-70 apps installed on their devices.

With app user churn being a major issue, it’s interesting to see the reasons why smartphone owners delete apps. For respondents to the MBD survey, the leading reason for having deleted an app from their smartphone is that they rarely used it (72%). Other common reasons included needing to free up memory on their phone (51%) and finding that the app was draining the phone battery (44%). Roughly one-third reported having deleted an app because it was sending them too many ads or alerts.

About the Data: The results are largely based on a survey of 2,011 US adults who own a smartphone. The survey was conducted in August 2015. Some findings are based from the Compete mobile clickstream panel, which tracks every app and site visited by panelists (US mobile consumers who have opted in to Compete’s proprietary mobile clickstream panel). The study analyzes the behavioral data collected from January to June 2015.

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