Do mobile shoppers disclose more valuable data about themselves?

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Jun 04, 2020
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Knowledge@Wharton

Presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

New research from Wharton marketing professors finds people are more willing to share deeper and more personal information when communicating on a smartphone compared with a personal computer.

In their paper, “Full Disclosure: How Smartphones Enhance Consumer Self-Disclosure,” the professors, Shiri Melumad and Robert Meyer, explain that one reason is that smartphones’ small screens and keypads require laser-focused attention.

“Because it’s harder to complete a task on our phone, we tend to have to devote more cognitive resources to whatever we’re doing, narrowing our attention more intently on whatever task we’re doing on the device,” Dr. Melumad recently said on the Wharton Business Daily radio show on Sirius XM. “That means we also tend to simultaneously block out any distracting thoughts or external factors in our environment that might otherwise inhibit us from disclosing — for example, concerns about how others might react to what we’re sharing.

“If you’ve ever ridden on a subway or bus, you’ve probably seen people completely engrossed on their phones, and they’re often engaging in very personal activities, as if there’s no one else around them. That’s sort of the phenomenon.”

A second reason is that smartphones are always at hand. Past Wharton research found they act “like an adult pacifier” for individuals.

Said Dr. Melumad, “It makes us feel more psychologically comforted than when we engage in the exact same task on our laptops. And when I feel more psychologically comforted, I’m more willing to share information that is more intimate or personal.”

The findings relate to “pretty low-stakes disclosures,” such as survey responses and customer-generated restaurant reviews.

Implications for marketers include that smartphone-generated content may be more indicative of how consumers actually think and feel. As a result, smartphone-generated content reviews, for example, were found to be more persuasive to other customers. Said Dr. Melumad, “This implies that firms can identify which posts are more likely to influence other customers simply by identifying which device the posts were written on.”

Customers could also be encouraged to provide certain types of information or respond to certain types of sensitive questions on their phones, in particular.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that people are more willing to share personal information on their smartphones than from their personal computers? Where do you see some practical implications of the findings for marketers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Obviously the better the input, the more effective -- at least in theory -- the marketing campaign should be."
"Brilliant research on the part of Wharton for calling out this heretofore, hidden in plain sight, phenomenon."
"And why not? It’s where we text with friends, use emojis, watch videos, and hang out on social media. It’s no wonder we are more open when we use them."

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14 Comments on "Do mobile shoppers disclose more valuable data about themselves?"


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Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

The findings make sense intuitively. Mobile shopping feels more personal and by being a more focused activity probably brings out a truer self. Secondly, because of default settings, users involuntarily disclose more about themselves. The thinking that mobile phones are relatively immune to phishing attempts, viruses, etc. leads users to lower their guard.

Investing in mobile apps and improving the in-app shopping experience continues to be critical. There is huge scope for improvements and opportunity for the retailers.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

People have always shared more personal information from their phones than their PCs. For evidence, look no further than phone settings to see how many companies we allow to track our locations. We do so because, as the Wharton study indicates, the phone interface is inherently challenging. Sharing location and other personal data typically make using phones easier, which brings value to our experience. Consumers have a long history of being willing to trade privacy for value, and anything that makes the mobile experience easier, faster, or more intuitive is highly valued by most people. So they happily trade privacy for convenience and efficiency.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Intuitively this seems to make sense, for all the reasons Wharton found. As to what marketers can do, obviously the better the input, the more effective — at least in theory — the marketing campaign should be. Of course, if this is true, it tends to de-value the majority of tools marketers have come to rely on such as internet intercepts, website traffic and navigation reports, etc., that are gleaned from laptops and desktops.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Now that I think about it, everything that I do on my phone seems more personal. Even though 90 percent of my business correspondence happens on my phone I still view it as a personal tool. My laptop and desktop computers are for business things I can’t do on my phone.

People do employ an invisible bubble in public when engrossed in whatever is happening on our phones. And why not? It’s where we text with friends, use emojis, watch videos, and hang out on social media. It’s no wonder we are more open when we use them.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Yeah but I think if the study included some age demographic aspects it just might find that there is a heavier weight of phone interaction from younger customers, who have also shown a tendency to be less concerned about sharing information. If the study was for the exact same individual on using a computer vs using the phone then sure. Marketers know to target individuals based on quite a few factors including devices.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

If the customer trusts the company, a certain amount of data sharing is okay. If the customer is willing to share, the retailer must not abuse that privilege. The opportunity to give the customer a better experience is obvious. Once the customer knows that, and the retailer creates that good experience (without abusing the privilege), that can turn into repeat business. The customer wants to do business with companies they can trust. So the retailer must prove, through using the customer’s information the right way, that they deserve to do business with that customer.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

People may discuss more personal things on their phones for all the reasons named but they also do so without realizing it. They give permission to apps to access data on their phones with little to no thought about what the app may do with it. Once they have given access to the app they have no control of what it elects to do with their information, including selling it.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

The smartphone is ubiquitous and it stands to reason that the focus required on a small screen device, coupled with its availability, makes it more vulnerable to over-sharing. I haven’t checked statistics on fraud but I would wager that it is a greater risk on the small screen than the laptop. Continued investment in mobile technology would be a wise choice for retailers.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Apps enjoy a sense of immediacy laptops and desktops do not provide. Note the poster child, Instagram. Human interaction with laptops and desktops is limited to linear representations of human-computer interaction. While apps, especially really good apps are so intuitive and responsive the user gets lost in their own thoughts yielding to the overwhelming human mission of satisfying one’s immediate social, emotional, and/or physical needs. For marketers, unfortunately, to date, true personalization has been pretty much a simplistic experience for consumers. Layering a new breed of intelligence on top of old, sequential based algorithms developed for machines rather than human cognition likely will just add more confusion to the data marketers collect. Brilliant research on the part of Wharton for calling out this heretofore hidden in plain sight, phenomenon.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

The research supports the sharing of more personal data over smart phones. Not all that personal information is shared on retailers’ apps or websites. It will mean nothing for marketers unless data gathered from smart phones is not considered digital data and integrated with all data collected from digital devices, and unless social media from individuals using smart phones is not gathered or analyzed separately. There is so much data available to retailers that separation, aggregation, and analysis is not likely to happen.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Clearly there is different value in data collected from smartphone use. This paper over-states that value, though.

We cannot presume to believe what they suggest: “Implications for marketers include that smartphone-generated content may be more indicative of how consumers actually think and feel.”

If we’ve learned anything from tracked/observed data it’s that what’s NOT revealed is far more critical than what IS revealed.

There are few practical implications from this — it’s interesting to ponder, but not going to make anyone profitable.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Mobile phones provide a more “in the moment” view of what someone is doing throughout their day. It comes with them virtually everywhere. So it makes sense that they would use it to complete more tasks, both personal and otherwise, and as opportunities come up to make it easier on their phone, many take advantage of that while, in turn, sharing more information. It would be interesting to see if this applies across all age groups or skews younger.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

When consumers on average touch their phones over 2,600 times per day (Vanguard, 2020) then they feel that it is part of their being or a natural appendage. We consumers let our guard down on our phone because we are not thinking, we are just doing (swipping, texting, talk to text, etc.). Therefore, yes it does makes sense that people are more willing to share more when they have their guard down.

rodgerdwight
Guest
22 days 15 hours ago

Yes, it makes sense. Activities carried out on mobile often feel more personal; the phone is an extension of the body, it’s smaller in size, and phone apps often ask for personal details. Such as track and trace (which you don’t get on a desktop), or healthcare data. This study is of psychological importance to marketers, of course. But they shouldn’t take advantage of this. Instead, being transparent about their use of data when asking for valuable customer information will go a long way. These are unique data points that will become more regulated in the future.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Obviously the better the input, the more effective -- at least in theory -- the marketing campaign should be."
"Brilliant research on the part of Wharton for calling out this heretofore, hidden in plain sight, phenomenon."
"And why not? It’s where we text with friends, use emojis, watch videos, and hang out on social media. It’s no wonder we are more open when we use them."

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