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eBay Gains Insight from Studying Shopper Diaries

Many people use smartphones and tablets to access the Internet in addition to using desktops and laptops. eBay set out to learn more how shoppers who use multiple devices conduct their holiday shopping and is now sharing the results along with its conclusions to help retailers improve the buying experience.

Two eBay Enterprise executives – Elizabeth Zietlow, Head of Usability, and Amber Otero, Head of User Experience, talked to EcommerceBytes about the results of the study, called “Multi-Device Ownership: Implications for Retailers and Consumers.” Unlike eBay Marketplaces, eBay Enterprise is comprised of many units that provide marketing, email, and other services to larger retailers. (You can find more about eBay Enterprise Marketing Solutions here.)

The eBay Enterprise study found that consumers with multiple devices make choices about which device to use based on proximity/ availability, intent, and their level of comfort with the device. During the study, 76% of participants used their smartphone for browsing and other shopping-related tasks and 68% of tablet owning participants used their tablet to browse.

So how much did multi-device owners actually buy using mobile devices versus traditional desktops and laptops, and do they prefer mobile apps over the mobile browser?

Some of the key findings answer those questions, which at first glance might relieve small merchants. For instance, despite the high percentage of users who browsed on mobile devices, laptops/desktops still reign as dominant shopping devices: 79% of purchases were made on a traditional device (laptop/desktop), while only 21% were made on a tablet or smartphone.

Does that mean consumers would always prefer to purchase on laptops and desktops? eBay Enterprise’s Zietlow said the opposite was true – the painful experience of going from browsing to purchasing on a mobile device actually required users to switch to traditional methods.

Zietlow said unfortunately, eBay couldn’t capture the purchases that were abandoned. “The forward thinking for us is that, “What can you do to encourage the consumer once they’ve started their browsing on a non-traditional device to complete that purchase?”” Retailers do still have the benefit of consumers’ access to other, traditional devices, “but at what cost?” Zietlow asked.

The study also found that consumers prefer to use their mobile device browser over mobile apps: there was four times more recorded use of device browsers than device apps. eBay Enterprise’s Otero said that may be due to convenience. Shoppers go to Google and engage with wherever that takes them to, rather than having to think about downloading and committing to an app.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Mobile and Tablet Devices are used for browsing: When purchasing an item, 76% of participants used their smartphones to browse, while 68% used their tablets for browsing.
  • Consumers frequently switch between devices: 40% of respondents switched between devices when shopping for an item.
  • For quick browsing tasks, the closest device wins: 53% used their smartphone in the home to browse, and 68% used their tablet to browse.

Multi-device ownership makes it easier for users to initiate and abandon a particular browsing or purchase path. That means retailers should provide “seamless switching between different devices,” according to eBay, since shoppers switch between devices during their shopping activity.

That puts the onus on retailers to create a consistent user experience, regardless of the range of form factors, websites, operating systems and apps used, eBay concluded.

Responsive Design Can Help Create Seamless Experience
There’s an opportunity for retailers to make optimized experiences, Zietlow said, to create that seamless experiences across multiple devices.

How can merchants do that? Otero said one of the things they’ve been working a lot with across eBay is looking at responsive design as a way of providing a seamless experience and offering the same feature set across all of the different devices. That’s more efficient than developing point solutions that often go out of sync. For example, she said, retailers might create an “m-dot” site – a mobile specific site – but then they end up creating different experiences that often don’t provide the same set of features, “which is where we see a lot of the frustration when switching devices.”

“Maybe you can’t figure out how to get to a product the same way, but when we use a responsive design technique, the same feature set and flow is available for all devices that access it.” With responsive design, it adapts, so the site may change in layout and form factor, but it adapts the same features and progressively scales for the device that it’s on. The site recognizes the type of device from which the user is accessing the site and presents the best view.

To study shopping behavior, eBay asked 55 participants to keep a daily diary in the form of a survey to track their holiday shopping device use over a six-week period, from November 19 until December 28, 2012. All participants owned a laptop/desktop and a smartphone, and 34 also owned a tablet. Participants ranged in ages from18 to 55 and were recruited from a mix of states and community types (rural, suburban, and urban). All participants were planning to make purchases in-store and online.

Other Conclusions
The study recommends retailers consider tactics that encourage account creation, such as exclusivity, or promote a continued relationship through rewards or point systems. However, retailers should avoid the hurdles created by mandatory sign-ins. In general, require less of the user when creating an account by limiting the required fields to the basics, e.g., name, email, password – especially on mobile devices where form entry is more cumbersome.

It also recommends supporting “the inevitable browsing interruptions caused by device switching. Consider interface enhancement and features like “send to phone” links, account-based persistent carts, “save and send cart,” and “email” buttons on mobile devices prominently displayed on product pages. These solutions should address all levels of purchase commitment (from low to high) and will help consumers shuffle content between devices while keeping them connected throughout the shopping experience.”

The full report can be downloaded on this eBayEnterprise.com page.

Mobile commerce is growing fast despite the challenges, Otero said. “The people that get this right are going to be the people that win in the next few years.”


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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.