Published: 7th Oct 2015

The challenge of cross device usage

- true team

At True it’s been impossible to ignore the changes we’ve seen happening in cross device usage. It’s visible across all categories, and without exception our clients have been affected.

To give you a flavour of the change in the last three years, consider these figures, from Furniture Village:

JB Cross Device 1
Sessions by device

In Q2 2012, 75% of site traffic to Furniture Village came from a desktop computer. In the same period in 2015, it was only 35%. 

Our experience with clients is mirrored by comScore’s analysis of global internet usage. They found that towards the end of 2013, desktop usage dropped below 50%. 

Jon Cross Device Tracking
Number of users worldwide

When it comes to browsing, mobile and tablet have taken over. 

Despite this rapid shift towards mobile, however, transactions on mobile devices are not increasing at the same rate. For Furniture Village, the disparity between sessions and transactions is now greater than ever. Although desktop accounts for just 35% of sessions, it still accounts for 62% of transactions. 

JB Cross Device 3
Transactions by device

Perhaps that adage – the bigger the purchase, the bigger the screen – still holds true for most. 

A shift in behaviour 

This is creating new challenges for our clients. We know that mobile usage denotes a different form of consumption. Less deep research, more snacking. People are less focused on a specific task, and more likely to be filling an empty moment. We also know that multi-screening is on the rise – so there’s a question over how much attention people are paying anyway.

We’ve noticed across clients that overall sessions are increasing, but transactions are not. It’s taking more and more visits before a purchase happens. On the surface this can look like a decline in website conversions, but there’s a bigger shift in consumer behaviour that we need to address. 

Greater Internet access via more devices is creating a more complicated multi-device path to purchase. Qualitative research has found that we often use the device closest to us, whether that’s our laptop at work, our mobile while riding the bus, or our tablet whilst watching TV. Our consideration of purchases is picked up and dropped off as easily as the smartphone by our side. 

JB Cross Device 4
67% of us start shopping on one device and continue on another

The question for brands is – when most users don’t convert on the device they started on, how do we accurately measure customer journeys? How can your analytics ever tell you the full story, when you can’t really tell the difference between users and sessions?

How should brands respond?

There are a number of possible solutions, but as yet there is no silver bullet. 

Getting users to log in to a website using each device is one solution that has worked for the likes of Amazon and eBay. This has given rise to many websites building log-in functionality to their site experience, creating a unique identifier for each user across all devices. It’s rare, though, for this to provide any value to the user. And without added value, users are unlikely to hand over their email address. It’s no good wanting to measure journeys if you end up with far fewer of them to track.

Another solution may lie with web browsers. Google Chrome encourages users to log in to their browser on all devices, which would make it easier to track journeys. As yet, though, Google haven’t given website analysts the ability to link journeys that occur across them. We’re not holding our breath either.

Neither of these solutions works particularly well. And neither are as effective as what we try to do here at True. With no single quant solution, we believe the answer lies in working with qual and quant data together. Journeys are better designed if we more fully understand the context in which they’re made. We might not be able to track individual journeys as they bounce across sessions and devices, but we can understand people’s motivations and methods as they do so. 

User testing is the key, and it isn’t a one-off. It’s an important tool in measuring the effectiveness of your digital service. When undertaken alongside site analytics it creates a culture of continuous improvement, one where teams of multiple disciplines continually observe, test and measure user behaviour and apply what they learn to our clients’ business. 

This is at once simpler and more difficult than the other options. The answers are richer, but not necessarily easier to get to. It’s a long-term fix, not a quick one. Done well, though, it can help you understand why solutions work or don’t work, not just whether they do. It can surface unmet user needs, and identify opportunities to unlock the full value of the CMS. 

Cross-device usage represents a challenge, but adapting to changing user behaviour is a huge part of our job. We need to understand exactly who our users are and why they do what they do. Only then can we design for them effectively, and accurately assess the opportunity and impact of digital on our clients’ business. 

- true team