Recent Studies Show Mobile’s Broadening Reach

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Some recent studies have further substantiated the growth trend in mobile search by local consumers, showing that usage now cuts across generational boundaries and demonstrating that mobile platforms are inherently local in nature.

The first of these studies, a survey conducted by Thrive Analytics and released this week by the Local Search Association, undercuts the conventional assumption that mobile usage skews young. Instead, the study finds significant usage of mobile devices by local consumers even among the oldest segment surveyed, smartphone users 54 and over. The focus of the survey is usage of smartphones to comparison shop while in a store, and the relevant breakdown by age groups is shown below.

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It’s clear from the results that although younger smartphone users outpace older users for in-store mobile search activity, older users are not far behind. What’s more, the same search activity is arguably more valuable when conducted by older consumers. Correlating the Thrive/LSA results with the 2012 Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that it makes sense to focus disproportionate attention on the older segment, in particular on what Thrive/LSA calls “Young Boomers”:


The Thrive/LSA survey captures several related trends also showing that older consumers, though in comparatively lesser proportions, are following the lead of their younger counterparts. Significant numbers of both younger and older consumers will seek out a product at a competing store if it offers a better deal, and both groups are more likely to check in at a store location if the store offers loyalty points or deals. Given the consistency of the trends, marketers should take comfort in the knowledge that unified marketing strategies should work well across the generational spectrum; though again, targeting consumers in the 45-54 age range is likely to yield greater value per lead.

Also recently released is BIA/Kelsey’s spring mobile forecast, projecting that mobile ad revenue will grow from $7.2 billion in 2013 to $30.3 billion by 2018. Location targeted mobile ads grab a 40% share of that revenue today and should go to 52% by 2018. The study also notes some big leaps in recent numbers, as with Facebook where 53% of ad revenue is now linked to mobile, up by 30 percentage points from the same time last year. Google is more or less compelling SMBs to go mobile, including mobile ads by default in its search campaigns, and overall mobile ad spend is projected to increase for both national brands and SMBs. The prospects are encouraging for those who would hope to offer new enterprise and SMB solutions in already hot sectors such as mobile payments and geo-fenced ad targeting.

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Finally, the headline says it all in Greg Sterling’s recent review of the 2014 Local Search Study from comScore, Neustar, and 15 Miles: 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases. Actually that number, though attention grabbing, was the same in last year’s study. However, the supporting data this year fills out the picture nicely. As Sterling notes, “Nearly 80 percent of local searches on mobile devices turned into purchases, with nearly 90 percent of those purchases being in a physical store (73 percent) or on the phone (16 percent) vs. online (11 percent).  Roughly three-fourths (76 percent) of those purchases happened the same day and most (63 percent) within a few hours.”

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Though the study finds that local mobile search still lags behind desktop in terms of total share of audience, with 96% of desktop users conducting local searches against 79% of mobile phone users and 81% of tablet users, still the strong intent to purchase on the same day makes this audience especially valuable to marketers. Harkening back to the Thrive/LSA study, comScore also finds that younger users are more likely than older users to conduct local searches on mobile devices, but shows a fairly high percentage of overall users, 39%, who now use multiple devices in the local search path to purchase.

Overall, these recent studies underline what we might call the inherently local nature of mobile search. Whether you are in a store contemplating a high-ticket purchase or downtown hoping to discover a new restaurant, the phone in your hand is your portal to timely and actionable information as well as marketing incentives that are increasingly likely to gain your attention.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.