How do smartphones fit into buying decisions? That's the key question behind a new survey undertaken by -- who else? -- Google, whose name is now synonymous with online advertising.
The survey, conducted with independent marketing firm Ipsos OTX, asked 5,013 U.S. adult smartphone users through the end of last year about their mobile habits in relation to ads, shopping and searching. Google said that, for businesses, the survey showed mobile search, location-based products and services, and a cross-channel strategy are important for marketing to mobile users.
To no one's surprise, the survey found that smartphones are widely used as an extension of desktop computers to browse the Internet (81 percent), search (77 percent), use an app (68 percent), and watch videos (48 percent).
Users looking for information that could lead to buying, the survey found, can be broken into three often-overlapping groups: action-oriented searchers, local information seekers, and users looking to make a purchase.
The most visited web sites are search engines (77 percent), followed by sites that offer social networking, retail and video sharing. And those searches lead to business -related actions. Ninety percent said searches led them to buy something, visit a business, or take another action, which, because mobile devices are carried everywhere, includes both physical as well as virtual actions.
Local information searching is nearly universal, with 95 percent of those surveyed indicating they use their smartphone for this purpose. Eighty-eight percent use this local information within a day. More than three-quarters say the action leads to contacting a business, with 61 percent saying they will call a business, and 59 percent physically visiting a business.
Smartphones have quickly become an indispensable aid to making a purchase. Seventy-nine percent of smartphone consumers use their devices while in a store -- to compare prices, find more product info, or locate another store. Nearly as many, 74 percent, use them to make a purchase online or in the store.
The survey also found that ads are a big driver of purchasing action. Seventy-one percent use smartphones to search because of an ad. That action was taken by 68 percent because of a traditional media ad, while 27 percent were responding to a mobile ad and 18 percent to an online ad.
Eighty-two percent said they notice mobile ads, and half of those take action -- either by visiting a web site (35 percent) or making a purchase (49 percent.)
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, described the results from Google's survey as "not surprising." Anecdotally, he said, he and and other shoppers commonly use smartphones as a tool for shopping, especially when actually out shopping, although he noted that he can't recall seeing any specific mobile ad.