Forget mobile, consumers use PCs to place online orders

May 14, 2014

Despite reports to the contrary, the desktop computer is not quite dead. Evidence of life comes from comScore, which found that retail e-commerce sales from desktops increased 11.7 percent during the first quarter. Online sales from desktops reached $56.1 billion, according to comScore, the highest first quarter ever.

As a point of contrast, sales made using mobile devices grew 23 percent during the first quarter to $7.3 billion. Sixty-two percent of sales from mobile devices came from smartphones with tablets accounting for 38 percent.

The top performing e-commerce categories included apparel & accessories, consumer packaged goods, sport & fitness, digital content & subscriptions and home & garden. Each of these achieved at 13 percent year over year growth.

Gian Fulgoni, chairman emeritus at comScore, said first quarter e-commerce numbers were a bright spot and that a stronger job market and improving consumer confidence could lead to stronger performance as the year goes on. He also pointed to "key consumer tech product upgrade cycles and new product introductions" as other positive factors for e-commerce sales during the back half of 2014.

Why do you think so many consumers continue to use desktop computers instead of mobile devices to place online orders? Do you expect smartphones and tablets to replace computers as the primary device for placing online orders?

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17 Comments on "Forget mobile, consumers use PCs to place online orders"

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Paula Rosenblum

I think most everyone expects desktop computers to become a niche market and tablets become the most common user device.

As to why sales continue to happen via desktop (or, I assume laptop) computers, well…they last at least 3 years, usually longer. It’s a bit like TVs. If they don’t break right away, they last for years. I can’t remember the last time I got a new one because the old one broke. So eComm market from desktop PCs is continuing at its traditional pace, while the eComm market from mobile devices is growing.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure why this is news.

Zel Bianco

The number one reason for this is that a desktop or laptop responds appropriately when navigating through your selections and requests. When using a tablet or at least the iPad, it can be rather frustrating to do even simple things. Perhaps it is not the device and the issue lies with the site, but whatever the case, when I want to have an easier experience online, whether ordering from Amazon or buying tickets, give me my desktop or laptop any day. Not to say the tablet or smartphone experience will not improve. It will and must.

Max Goldberg

The answer is simple: Bigger screen size. Browsing and ordering is easier with a bigger screen, particularly for non-Millennials. May e-commerce websites are not optimized for small screens, making navigation and transactions difficult at best and totally frustrating at worst.

Ron Margulis

I keep thinking about Star Trek and the device that delivered meals after Kirk or McCoy asked for them as the end run for online ordering. While the near instantaneous fabrication and delivery of Star Trek is a long way off, the idea of voice commands for ordering isn’t. And, with the integration of the internet into the family entertainment systems, it’s only a matter of time when we’ll be talking to our TVs to order dinner, books, movies and whatever else we want, potentially reducing the role of smartphones and tablets in the process.

Matt Schmitt

The online shopping experience on mobile is still subpar compared to desktop computers. This is mainly a factor of screen size and having a good experience navigating and browsing through categories and products.

We’re in the middle of a pretty significant shift related to tablets, otherwise currently known as the “in-between” device. Shopping via tablets, compared to mobile phones, can be a good experience now that many retailers have tablet-friendly sites.

It’s an interesting and sometimes confusing classification of desktop versus mobile devices because this tends to lead some to think in terms of the shopper as being at home (or work) for desktop devices or on the go if they are shopping from mobile devices.

It would be great to see some numbers on what percentage of mobile device transactions (especially tablets) are taking place at home versus on the go.

All that said – yes, I would expect the category of mobile devices to become the primary means of placing online orders.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Since news reports continue to emphasize that the security of transactions on mobile devices is lower then security on desktop computers, it makes sense that more consumers use desktop computers to place orders. If consumers want to see pictures, smartphone screens are typically very small so that would be another reason for using the desktop.

News reports usually talk about the percent increase of orders from smartphones or mobile devices. This article reports both the dollars amount and the percentages. Given the size of the dollar amount of desktop sales, the percentage of usage or growth of sales using desktops is going to continue to be smaller than the percent of mobile device growth for quite some time. It will be a long time, if ever, that mobile devices will replace desktops for ordering.

Steve Montgomery

Here are some of my reasons for using my laptop or desktop rather than a mobile devise. First is the screen size. Yes, I know I can focus in on selected items on a table to handheld, but with the large screens on my desktop, I don’t need to or need to as often. Second, I use a multiscreen environment and I find it handy to be able to use both screens to make comparisons. Third, as Zel mentions, I find it easier to navigate with a mouse that using my finger for “point and click.” Finally, like Zel, my experience with mobile devices within a website as less than satisfying.

Dick Seesel

Use of desktop or laptop PCs for e-commerce is growing, but at a slower pace than for e-commerce in total and for sales on mobile devices. If you extrapolate from current trends, it’s easy to see where this is going.

For the short term, a lot of consumers still have a comfort level with the security and familiarity of a desktop or laptop. As other panelists have pointed out, a lot of e-commerce sites still have work to do to make their m-commerce sites equally easy to use. But there is no doubt that the growth trajectory favors tablets and smartphones over the long run.

Frank Riso

First of all, the study did not report the demographics of the people placing these orders. It may be older people using their laptops to see what they are buying on a larger screen. Or it could be just anyone wanting to see the item they plan to purchase on a big screen. Smartphones are a good way to purchase items we know a lot about, but tablets and PCs are for the items we do not know a lot about and want to see more details. If this is a correct assumption, PCs will be around for awhile, but tablets will rule the next generation of shoppers.

Ryan Mathews

Um … let’s see … maybe because more people like to shop for a couch or book when they are at home sipping a nice Merlot than when they are running through a rainstorm fighting to find a cab?

Um … yup … I think that’s it.

As to the last question … tablets maybe, phones, no.

Janet Dorenkott
Janet Dorenkott
3 years 4 months ago

Size, speed and ease of use. I like to search for things from my phone, but if I’m shopping, I want to see all my options from a big screen, zoom in to see detail, quickly select what I want and move on to the next item. There are plenty of websites that are responsive to mobile devices these days, but no matter how responsive they become, they will never offer the opportunity to see many items clearly on a 6″ screen compared to a 22″ screen. Simple as that.

Mark Heckman

As a reasonably engaged Boomer, I can tell you that between my fat fingers hitting the wrong keys and the growing need for stronger reading glasses, that some of the retreat back to the desktop may be driven in certain demographic circles by the ergonomics of aging!

For younger e-commerce participants, the improvement of the desktop computer, complete with retina screens, more functional mice, and smaller foot prints are likely contributing factors.

That is not to say that smartphones and tablets are in trouble, as the numbers clearly tell us their popularity is increasing. However, mobile computing does have some limitations and can be more difficult to navigate than using larger screens and keyboards.

Nancy Schultz
Nancy Schultz
3 years 4 months ago

Even with well-designed mobile apps, viewing and selecting merchandise with a phone is limiting. It is difficult to see and compare the wide variety of merchandise available even from one vendor. There are also consumer concerns about mobile security that make desktop a better choice for many. It is also simpler to leave the screen and come back when using the desktop.

Ralph Jacobson

Remember, these survey statistics are only relevant in the U.S. Across the world, Europe and developed Asia are adopting mobile at furious rates, while growth/emerging regions are skipping the “PC Stage” completely and going directly to mobile. Here in the U.S., we have a vast audience with PCs who are not yet ready to throw them out completely to move to mobile, however, half of Millennials already use mobile as their primary screen.

George-Marie Glover
George-Marie Glover
3 years 4 months ago

This is a case where size matters. It’s simply easier to shop for potential purchases on a bigger screen. Using a mouse and full-sized keyboard is easier than typing on a tiny touch-screen.

Larry Negrich

Many companies have yet to establish a RWD site so PC ordering is the only convenient option. I have no doubt that tables, mobile phones, and wearable-enabled devices will be the primary vehicle for online ordering over the next 5 years, or sooner. The decision has been made by younger audiences and now it’s a matter of moving thru the age demo to have the trend become established reality.

Dan Frechtling

Screen size, habit, and security are all important root causes for the stubborn resistance of the desktop to go away. Ralph’s comment about the US-based sample is noteworthy as well.

But there’s another important driver: orders placed from the office. According to CareerBuilder, over half of workers shop online at work during the holidays. Website visitors in general are highest during the weekdays. Online orders peak at two times — at lunch and one after dinner — and the lunch peak reigns supreme for many categories.

The reasons for this are both rational and irrational. White collar adults typically spend more time staring at a work PC screen than any other form factor. They can order while multi-tasking on “real” work. Online shopping is also a guilty pleasure that feeds the resident urge to procrastinate.


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