The Role of Mobile Devices in the Online Customer Journey

Evert de Haan, P. K. Kannan, Peter C. Verhoef, and Thorsten Wiesel, 2015, 15-124

While mobile devices are associated with increased website traffic, they have substantially lower conversion rates than fixed devices, leading some online retailers to question the return on investment in mobile platforms. However, consumers use different devices at different stages in their purchase journey (as their shopping goals change), and marketers need to understand how different devices complement each other in the customer’s online journey.

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The value of device-switching customers

In this report, Evert de Haan, P. K. Kannan, Peter Verhoef, and Thorsten Wiesel explore how consumers’ shopping behavior differs across devices and how device switching affects their path to purchase and, ultimately, conversion. Theirs is the first study to examine cross device usage in the context of customers’ path to purchase and to assess its impact on conversion.

Using clickstream data from a large European online retailer, they find that switching from a more mobile device (e.g., smartphone) to a less mobile device (e.g., PC) on average almost doubles the conversion probability compared with continuing with the same device. The strength of this switching effect on the conversion probability depends on customer-, session-, product-, and time-specific variables.

First, the more experienced the customer is with the online retailer, the weaker is the impact of device switching on conversion rates. Second, for sessions in which customers view a product they have already examined (e.g., two consecutive sessions in which a customer views the same pair of jeans), device switching has a strong impact on the increase in conversion rates. This effect becomes even stronger when the sticker price of the product is high and the consecutive sessions are closer to each other in time.

Managerial implications
These findings illustrate the importance of focusing not just on the conversion rates of individual devices per se but on the multiple devices customers use in their paths to purchase.

Mobile devices’ low conversion rate is strongly related to the phase in which customers use these devices. The low immediate conversion of mobile is fully compensated by the increase in conversion of other devices used by the customer in later phases. Mobile devices are in fact of high value in the online customer journey; customers who use these devices together with fixed devices are significantly more valuable in terms of conversion probabilities, than equally active single-device users.

Mobile devices can help online retailers to identify critical moments in the customer journey at which conversion rates may increase. A challenge is to correctly track customers across different devices, but doing so provides managers the opportunity to better (re)target and serve customers in the different stages of their path to purchase.

Evert de Haan is Assistant Professor, Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. P.K. Kannan is Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Marketing Science, Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. Peter C. Verhoef is Professor of Marketing, University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Thorsten Wiesel is Professor of Marketing, Marketing Center Münster, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany.

The authors thank participants at the 2015 Big Data Conference in Munich, the 2015 EMAC conference in Leuven, the 2015 MSI/HEC Conference on Customer Engagement, the 2015 Theory + Practice in Marketing conference in Atlanta, and the 2015 INFORMS Marketing Science conference in Baltimore for their helpful comments on the paper. They also thank the Marketing Science Institute for its support of this project (MSI Research Grant #4-1879). 




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