How mobile changes what we do every hour of every day


I’ll bet you didn’t know that each year for the last 10, the U.S. government has been collecting data on how Americans spend their time each day. That agency isn’t the NSA (shame on all you cynics out there) but the Bureau of Labor Statistics through something they call the American Time Use Survey. Over 136,000 interviews have been done over the last decade to systematically and statistically estimate “how, where, and with whom” Americans spend their time across a broad spectrum of activities.

The results are pretty interesting. Well, mostly because how Americans spend their time over a 24-hour period, at first glance, seems a bit uninteresting and maybe even a little pathetic. For instance, Americans spend, on average, a whole 1.19 hours eating each day (all three meals, mind you) during the week and a whole 1.39 hours each day on weekend days. Wow, we really go crazy on Saturdays and Sundays, don’t we???!!! I hope that this past weekend, you all at least made the most of that extra 40 minutes by eating (or drinking) something positively sinful at the beach in the sunshine.

But let’s dig a little more here. We at PYMNTS did an analysis of the 24-hour block for Americans who are in the workforce – those between the ages of 22 and 65. You might be tempted to take away from this graph that Americans spent their day in 2012 by and large the very same way they did in 2003: sleeping about 30 percent of the time, working about 35 percent of the time, and the rest divided into a variety of things including commuting, cleaning, volunteering and caring for others.

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Or did they?

What this chart simply doesn’t measure or reflect is the degree to which mobile/connected devices have completely transformed how Americans actually spent the time in each and every one of those bars in 2012 – and how that will change even more over the coming decade.

Take, for instance, these once fairly straightforward and seemingly mundane activities.

Watching television in 2003 was pretty much about plopping in front of the tube in classic couch potato fashion and flipping channels mindlessly and endlessly. Not anymore! Nielsen’s latest research tells us that most smartphone and tablet owners (like 70 percent of them) actually surf the Internet while “watching” TV – one eye/thumb on Google and one eye/thumb on the TV show and remote control. That Internet surfing is divided between looking for random stuff unconnected to whatever happens to be on TV (e.g. Is there a picture yet of  Kim and Kanye’s baby? ) or information directly related to the TV that the one eye is focused on (e.g. My favorite Red Carpet celebrity is wearing Valentino and I want to know Valentino’s life’s story). Many of these mobile/tablet owners are also engaged in America’s favorite pastime – shopping! Twenty percent of tablet owners buy the things that they see on TV while sitting in front of it, with many more just visiting their favorite eTailers during commercial breaks. A small, yet growing percentage of smartphone/tablet owners (~14 percent according to Nielsen) actually watch TV programming (and movies too) on their devices, which is amazingly easy now with Netflix and iTunes. I’ll bet that most of you have used your iPads or tablets to catch up on past episodes of Mad Men or House of Cards or Revenge or to devour entire seasons of Homeland or Damages or Boardwalk Empire while traveling. Tablets and smartphones have not only changed how people watch TV today, they have made time-shifting a welcome reality.

Listening to the radio also used to be something that could only be done with a specific device and a set number of stations. Tablets and smartphones have ignited the internet radio phenomenon and are challenging the traditional radio broadcasters in a big way. Pandora, the largest online radio service says that its users spend 20 hours, on average, a month on their platform. They have recently expanded into what has always been sacred radio turf – the automobile – reporting that one-third of all new cars sold in the U.S. this year will come pre-installed with Pandora. Since roughly 50 percent of all radio listening occurs in automobiles during commuting, that’s a pretty big deal for them and a pretty big wake up call for traditional radio broadcasters who are now facing a future where automakers potentially stop equipping cars and trucks with AM/FM radios. That would put the $15 billion local advertising market totally up for grabs and them out of business. Pandora reports that the number of its listeners in cars in the U.S. is approaching 3 million: a four-fold increase in its audience last year. (P.S. Pandora’s move into automobiles is just one data point that underscores the power and potential of connected devices beyond mobile phones and tablet.)

Speaking of commuting, mobile devices make commuting much more productive and enjoyable for the many millions of Americans who use public transportation to get to and from work (or who are passengers in cars). In 2012, Americans took ~6 billion rides to and from work using public transportation, trips that used to include reading a physical newspaper or a physical book to pass the time. These commuters, of course, still read newspapers and books but increasingly on their tablets and smartphones, in addition to texting, emailing, playing games, listening to music and watching TV via those same devices.

Eating is also being transformed by mobile devices and not always for the better. These days mobile phones almost pass as a culinary utensil. How many times have you committed the ultimate dining faux pas and checked your phone while at the table or (gasp) even texted the person you were eating with? Okay, so maybe you did that under the guise of photographing your food to post on Facebook (20 percent of all adults say they do) but chances are that you’ve probably breeched mobile phone etiquette at least once or twice. (According to a recent survey, a third of you who went on dinner dates this past weekend also checked your phone multiple times during the course of the date.) Some restaurants are now getting pretty touchy about the pairing of mobile phones with food with some banning them entirely, at least one offering a 5 percent discount to anyone who checks their mobile phone at the door (said restaurant is in LA and reports that that 40 percent of its customers do) and others simply embarrass patrons who are more interested in their phones than their food. On the flip side however, using mobile phones to find restaurants is among its most popular uses. Recent studies suggest that as many as 81 percent of smartphone users have searched for a place to eat using their phone with 75 percent of those searchers choosing a restaurant based on those search results. And, since most of those searches are done within an hour of when that searcher wants to eat, the mobile device is as invaluable to restaurant owners looking to fill their seats as it is infuriating when those hungry mobile phone addicted patrons arrive on their doorsteps. Many restaurants are also using online ordering apps like Seamless and PayPal to improve restaurant efficiencies by allowing customers to order ahead (probably while commuting) and pick up in-store. And apps like Tabbed let customers pay at the restaurant without whipping out a plastic card.

And believe it or not, when it comes to sleeping these days, our phones are also never far from reach. Four out of five smartphone users reach for their mobile phones within 15 minutes of opening their peepers and 80 percent say it is the first thing they reach for. Okay, so, maybe this isn’t too surprising in a world where nearly 70 percent of smartphone users check their phones for messages, alerts or calls even if there aren’t any indications that they have missed a call or a text. Eighty percent of all smartphone users have their phones with them all but two hours that they are awake and in a recent Harris Poll survey, many couldn’t actually recall a single time of the day that their phone wasn’t with them. (Hopefully, though, we can all safely draw the line at dreaming about our mobile phones and tablets.)

So, now you see that even though the amount of time allocated to different things hasn’t changed all that much over 10 years, how we spend that time really has. Smartphones and tablets bring a connected, real-time and two-way experience into every facet of our lives, one that was impossible when we were all tethered to desktops or laptops at home or work. The availability and adoption of smartphones means that more people have more access to the web. Pew Internet reports that more than half of all Americans used a mobile device to access the Internet in 2012, and nearly a third say that it is the primary way that they do so. Facebook now sees more than 20 percent of its traffic from mobile-only users and nearly half of all shoppers use their phones exclusively to check out products and services before they buy them. Ten percent of all Americans own a laptop, smartphone and a tablet – and that number is increasing each quarter. By the end of 2013, there will be more mobile devices on Earth than people.

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There are four important things to take away, I think, from all of this.

One is that there is an amazing and exciting future for everyone who wants to transform the way that merchants and consumers use mobile, tablet and other connected devices to interact with each other. Two, is that these devices enable consumers to multi-task like there’s no tomorrow – moving freely between devices and sites and offers and merchants more easily than ever before while doing the things that they have always done. The third is that there are still only 24 hours in the day. And fourth, it will be increasingly tough to keep the consumer’s attention focused on what merchants and brands want them to pay attention to.

Interestingly, mobile is becoming to the Internet what the Internet was to print advertising: a new medium attracting lots of eyeballs with almost unlimited inventory to promote ads and offers. But like the Internet and print, the economics are vastly different, and not for the better if you are an advertiser or an advertising platform. Consumers with mobile devices and tablets are exposed to something like 1,700 banners each month, but rarely click. Half of the time that they do, it’s by accident. One media agency reports that a consumer is more likely to become a Navy Seal than willingly click on a mobile banner ad. Google’s recent earnings put an exclamation mark on that point. A lot of their search traffic now is being driven by mobile, but since conversions are low, so are prices they can command for those clicks. Their earnings reflected that mismatch.

Enter the commerce + payments combination.

We’re just starting to see many interesting experiments at merchants who are experimenting with business models and commerce tools and tactics that have nothing to do with advertising but everything to do with how connected devices like mobile and tablets (and who knows what else in the future) can deliver relevancy tied to a registered payment method. In fact, the top 50 U.S. merchants who drive 52 percent of the sales volume are putting new capabilities literally in the hands of consumers, like building shopping lists, or ordering ahead, or reserving items online to pick up in-store, or QR codes on displays to order and have shipped that add value to their consumers and save them time and money. Payment becomes the proof point for the actions that these new capabilities deliver, and a way to inform new business models and monetization schemes, all the while allowing consumers to multitask to their hearts’ content inside each and every one of those blue bars.

(article by K.Webster)

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