Why are people more impulsive when using mobile?

In an age where everybody has a smartphone, it's more than likely that you’re reading this on your mobile device. Actually, by 2019 it’s predicted that there will be 2.5 billion smartphone users - that's a third of the world's population.

It’s so ingrained into our everyday lives that the average mobile user checks their device 150 times a day. We don’t just use our devices to text; we use them to tweet, shop and take photos. In fact, research claims that for online shopping, smartphones are the dominant method of connection to the web for millennials, with 89% of them using the devices to connect vs 75% who use laptops, 45% tablets and 37% desktop computers.

It seems that we’re indulging in guilty pleasures more often, too: Research by the University of British Columbia says that we’re more likely to indulge in guilty pleasures when shopping online with a touch screen versus a desktop computer. That should be happy news for some brands, but what is it about smartphones that makes us feel like this, and why isn’t the same true when we use desktops?

It’s about emotion

Psychologically, using your phone satisfies hungry neurons with the positive feedback of constant connectivity. With all that positive feedback coming from a small technological device, we’re bound to want to do something with that energy. The mobile device sits in our pockets or our purses and keeps us constantly connected whereas the more static desktop computer has become the tool for more mundane, less spontaneous tasks.

“Old habits die hard”

Behaviors turn into habits when they become automatic. This is the science behind why we lock our doors without thinking about it or find ourselves brushing our teeth without remembering that we walked into the bathroom. When you perform a specific behavior regularly, its pattern becomes etched in your neural pathways.

Smartphones have been designed for users to keep checking them - notifications are pushed to the forefront of our minds in the form of new emails, texts, and social media updates using vibrations, sounds and lights to grab our attention. This has quickly become habit. And with that positive energy described above, psychology suggests that the brain comes back to that experience again and again. Let’s say you’re playing a game on your smartphone that tends to relax you when you feel stressed - that pleasure or comfort brought on by the game encourages repetitive behavior.

The same psychological model is used for websites such as Buzzfeed. Visitors to Buzzfeed are generally looking for amusement or a break, and the site keeps the audience engaged by displaying content linked through casual associations at the bottom of each article, leading visitors to jump from one article to the next.

A world of impulse purchases at our fingertips

Remember in the garden of Eden when Eve took the apple from the tree? This same temptation is at our fingertips. We can make purchase decisions as simple as the click of a button, leaving little time for us to stop and consider the consequences. We are a world of impulse buyers. Again, we come back to same psychology we’ve talked about before: Buying something on a whim also triggers the same positive feedback loop as checking our smartphones. Reinforcing our frivolous purchases as a positive action, making us more likely to do it again.

Retailers must harness this information to build customer relationships. Understanding the different behaviors triggered by emotions via device has become the number one factor in customer loyalty and allows brands to deliver the exceptional experiences that customers expect.

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