How do consumers use technology?

As a human race, we are the most innovative, intelligent and connected generation that has ever existed. Most of what makes our world what it is, relies on technology and the advancements that go along with it. Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘technology’ as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purpose” and the internet is arguably one of the greatest sciences that this world has ever seen. But who is behind this magnificent science? How has man become what it is today? Allow me to explain.

Access to the internet

According to Andrews (2013), the first workable prototype of the internet came in the late 1960s, with the creation of APARNET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. In the 1970s, two scientists named Robert Khan and Vinton Cerf developed Transmission Control and Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, which was a model that set standards for how data was transmitted between various networks. APARNET adopted TCP/IP in 1983, and from then on, researchers began to put together what we now know as the modern internet.

In 1990, a British Scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, developed the very first web browser which was known as the World Wide Web, or (WWW). While it is often confused with the internet itself, it is actually just the most common way of accessing information online using websites and hyperlinks. (Andrews, 2013).

Tim Berners-Lee (1994)

By 1995, 18 million American households were online, however only 3% of these households had ever used the World Wide Web. Websites such as Amazon, Match.com, eBay and Craigslist were all open for business and Microsoft had released Windows 95 and the first edition of Internet Explorer. (Pew Research Centre, 2014)

Pew Research Centre, (2014) stated that by the early 2000s, 55 million people were going online from work and 44% of those people said that they used the internet to help them in their jobs. With the launch Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, along with the creation of the Apple iPhone and the App Store, the last 15 years have seen a rise in consumers going online with their phones. By 2013, 56% of Americans had smartphones and according to Apple, their app store downloads reached 40 billion. (Pew Research Centre, 2014).

Digital devices used by audiences

Computer

The world’s first website and server went live on Tim Berner-Lee’s computer. (Pew Research Centre, 2014). In the 1960s, the world had around 10,000 computers which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and only had a few thousand words of magnetic core memory. With the invention of the World Wide Web, by 1992 the internet had one million hosts, computers were nine orders of magnitude faster and network bandwidth was twenty million times greater. (Computer History Museum, 1997).

Today, computers come in all shapes and sizes. While many workplaces and homes still have the traditional desktop computer, the most innovative computers are now laptops or tablets. In 2008, Steve Jobs introduced the first MacBook Air which was only 0.76 inches thick. Olito (2019) said that this minimalistic device changed the industry forever. (Olito, 2019)

Tablets

In the year 2000, Microsoft introduced the world’s first Tablet, the Tablet PC. According to Pothitos (2017) in Mobile Industry Review, Bill Gates predicted that tablets would become next big thing before 2005, but the company did not make that happen. In 2010, Apple released the first iPad. Mobile Industry Review suggests that Apple chose the perfect time to introduce this kind of technology to the world. (Pothitos, 2017) Browsing on a tablet offers a very similar experience to a smart phone with iOS or Android. (Piejko, 2015). There are various other makes and models of tablet today, such as Kindles, Microsoft Surface and Galaxy Tabs, however Apple still dominates the market and these would not have existed without the introduction of the Microsoft Tablet PC and the Apple iPad. (Mobile Industry Review, 2017).

Bill Gates holding the first Tablet PC

Smartphones

Early mobile phones had limited capabilities in terms of internet browsing. Piejko (2015) states that until iOS and Android were released, the browsing experience on mobile phones was very different to what was possible on desktop computers. Thanks to these developments, we can now access the internet from anywhere in the world using our smartphones. In 2017, over half of the world’s population had a smartphone, and more than half of the world’s web traffic was coming from mobile phones. (Kemp, 2017) In 2016, the number of people using Facebook for mobile had risen to 26 million, from 20 million back in 2014. In the same year, a quarter of Facebook users only used their smartphone to access Facebook. (Vessels, 2016)

How do customers search for information?

Search Engine

Moon (2004) writes about how the internet offers convenience to consumers to allow them to search or information, evaluate and use goods and services more effectively in order to fulfil their needs. He says, “the internet can enhance consumer efficiency by facilitating consumers’ access to consumption related information more quickly and save time, effort, and monetary cost for information collection. The internet can also improve consumer effectiveness by providing the mixture of sound, image, text, and visual tools to enhance consumer learning and help consumers choose products that can best satisfy their needs.”

Fleishman-Hillard (2012) states that 89% of customers begin their buying process with a search engine. (Fleishman-Hillard, 2012) This highlights the need for companies to utilise correct marketing techniques when it comes to their online presence, for example, appearing at the top of the search list, creating a well-designed website with informative content, converting the website visitor to a customer and continuing to impress the customer after the sale has been closed.

Social media advertising

It is no secret that social media has changed the world, especially when it comes to advertising and marketing. Traditionally, advertising relied heavily on newspapers, TV, and billboards, however nowadays, one of the largest markets has proven to be social media platforms.

A study by ODM Group showed that 74% of customers use social networks to help with their purchasing decisions. (Gervin, 2019) In addition, Forbes reported that 78% of consumers make purchases based on companies’ posts on social platforms. (Olenski, 2012)

This study by Invesp (2018) shows the social media sites that consumers browse before making an online purchase. The most popular site to study is Facebook, followed by Twitter. However, consumers are more likely to be browsing these platforms to search for influencer or consumer reviews on the product, as opposed to company advertisements.

Influencer marketing

The rise of influencer marketing has had a huge impact on consumers’ buying habits. While the term ‘influencer’ is quite well known among young adults today, another name used for these individuals is a ‘prosumer’. Kent Business Matters describes a prosumer as being someone who not only reads or watches online content, but they also create their own. Prosumers usually post or share content based on their personal experiences and emotions by interacting with their followers, answering questions and building rapport. The followers have a certain admiration for the prosumer and are interested in the information they share. (Kent Business Matters, 2017)

In 2016, TapInfluence and Nielsen Catalina Solutions reported that influencer marketing generated 11 times the return on investment of traditional digital marketing methods. (TapInfluence, 2016) According to a study by Influencer Marketing Hub, almost 40% of Twitter users say they’ve bought something as a direct result of a tweet from an influencer. (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2020) Add that to the statistics from Salesforce, reporting that campaigns incorporating user generated content help engagement to rise by 50%, and it is plain to see the impact of prosumer content on consumer buying habits. (Hutchinson, 2016)

Online Reviews

Online reviews also have a significant impact on customer’s purchasing decisions. A BrightLocal survey showed that 86% of customers read online reviews before purchasing. (Murphy, 2019) However, The Chat Shop have very cleverly observed that it depends on what you are selling. For example, 31% of shoppers read grocery store reviews, while 60% of customers are likely to read a review of a restaurant and 70% will read technology and gadget reviews. If a customer’s investment is serious, online reviews become more significant. (Berg, 2018)

What do consumers buy?

Electronic commerce, or ecommerce, is the term used to describe any transaction carried out over the internet. The rise of companies such as Amazon and eBay changed the way retail works. 99 Firms’ Ecommerce Statistics for 2020 show that ecommerce is constantly growing worldwide. They suggest that by 2040, 95% of all purchases are expected to be via ecommerce. (99 Firms, 2020)

This infographic by Invesp shows the most purchased products online. From the chart, we can see that consumer electronics, books and clothing are the top three highly purchased products. Buying these products online allows customers to compare prices between sites, to browse a wider range of options and to read reviews on the products. (Invesp, 2018) The products are that are purchased the least include household goods, office supplies, consumer packaged goods, sports equipment and pet supplies, with the lowest items being food and groceries. This is most likely because the majority of people prefer to browse the aisles when shopping for groceries, to buy fresh ingredients and receive their items the same day.

Online video consumption

Online video consumption has increased staggeringly in the last 5-10 years. With the launch of YouTube 15 years ago, it now has over 2 billion monthly users. Even though YouTube began in 2015, it was when Google bought the company a year and a half later, that it started to become the giant that it is today. In 2007, when Apple released the first iPhone, YouTube also released their mobile site, making it more accessible to users anywhere and everywhere. (Leskin, 2020)

Online video content is now available on almost every single social media platform there is, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter and Reddit, as well as the platforms that are solely dedicated to video such as YouTube, Vimeo and more recently, TikTok. According to a report from Nielsen in 2014, Americans aged 18-64 doubled their online video consumption from 13 minutes a day in 2012 to 27 minutes a day. At this time, online videos were still not as popular as TV, which took up over 4.5 hours of the average person’s day.

This study by eMarketer shows that, even though television still trumps digital video, people are spending an average of 1.43 hours watching online content. (eMarketer, 2019)

We can also see that the time spent watching TV reduces every year, while digital video consumption rises. Since 2016, subscription streaming services have grown by 40%. (Felix, 2020) Due to the popularity and the convenience of streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV, the need for live TV is becoming less significant.

How have consumer trends changed?

The Internet of things, or IoT, refers to everything connected to the internet, but Burgess explains that it is increasingly being used to describe objects that “talk” to each other. (Burgess, 2018) They use built-in sensors to collect and share data with one another. SaS suggests that IoT connected devices and machines can improve how we work and live. (SaS, 2019) Devices such as Apple watches being able to access all the information on your phone and other devices like the Amazon Echo Dot that are able to control everything from your music, alarm clock, lamps, and your TV.

Morgan (2014) states that a new rule for the future will be, “anything that can be connected, will be connected” meaning that all the devices in your possession will have access and be connected to each other. Your car would be able to access your calendar and show you the best route to take depending on what time you need to be there; your alarm clock would tell your coffee machine to start pouring as soon as you wake up and so on.

Consumers today look for experiences and not just the physical product. The growth of the internet has changed the way consumers interact, and they are constantly on the lookout for content they can relate to. The digital shopper has a wealth of information available to them at the click of a button, and the convenience of ecommerce as well as the ability to browse and compare products allows them to be savvy with their spending.

This is why Dunwiddle, a Corporate Marketing Content Writer for Rev Local, suggests that all businesses should optimise for mobile, ensuring that your mobile website is up to date, looks good, and doesn’t take too long to load. He also says that businesses should look into putting more spend on digital marketing in order to keep up with the Generation Z demographic. (Dunwiddle, 2020)

There is no denying that we are in the midst of the digital age. Technology has become our best friend and we tend to turn to our phone before we make any decisions, whether it’s social media platforms, online videos, reviews or information websites. Businesses have also had to adapt, to stay in line with the ever-changing world we live in. Brick and mortar business are now beginning to list their products online to give them the best chance of succeeding in today’s marketplace. The consumer will continue to evolve and grow along with the advancement of technology and very soon, everything and everyone will be connected through the power of the internet.


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