A Picture is Worth a Thousand Charts

Posted on Posted in Consumer Trends

I regularly receive decks-full of data about the rise of smartphone usage, and the rush to mobile devices generally. And the statistics are staggering (more on that later). But recently two sets of simple images brought it home for me. I suddenly realized just how much the world has changed in the last decade.

Here’s the first set*:

This is from a presentation made by Eduardo Conrado, a Senior Vice President with Motorola. I saw Conrado speak in New York last month, as part of the Westfield World Retail Study Tour. The 2005 shot was taken at the funeral procession of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. The 2013 image was captured at the announcement of the ascension of Pope Francis, also at the Vatican. Admittedly, the circumstances surrounding the occasions are very different – one a somber mood, the other celebratory. But nevertheless the sea of mobile devices in the second image is representative of our time, where moments are observed through the frame of a smartphone or tablet and instantly shared.

Here’s the second set of images*:

This is from a brilliant talk, again made just last month, by Mary Meeker and Liang Wu of consultancy KPCB (view the whole presentation here). The story the pictures tell is self-evident; we are a different people now, empowered by incredibly powerful technology in the palms of our hands. (Reality check for me: I realized at a recent rock concert I attended that I was looking more at my screen than the stage, as I filmed the event.)

The past is indeed a foreign country, to quote L.P. Hartley. It’s sobering and surprising to realize that the Apple iPhone wasn’t released until 2007, and yet now many of us consider it (or the equivalent smartphone) to be a constant companion. (If you’ve left your phone at home recently, you’ll know it feels like you are missing a limb.)

The implications for retail are immense. We are, as David Marcotte of Kantar Retail so deftly put it, no longer flesh-and-blood consumers but “enhanced people, who are the result of 24/7 mobile.” (See my column on “Marketing to Androids”).

Great retailers recognize this reality, and welcome smartphone-wielding shoppers, with free wi-fi in-store, QR codes on ticketing, and mobile-friendly applications and websites.  Savvy merchants see mobile devices as the glue that links offline and online retail to the point where there really isn’t a dividing line at all.

I promised you some stats, and here they are:

  • Over half a billion photos are uploaded and shared from mobile devices every day (Source: KPCB)
  • Mobile traffic as a % of global internet traffic is growing 1.5 times per year (Source: StatCounter Global Stats)
  • Mobile internet traffic has surpassed the PC in China already (Source: CNNIC)
  • 64% of Gen Y and 52% of Gen X shoppers used their personal mobile device for shopping-related activities during the US holiday shopping season in 2012 (source: Motorola)

And I could go on, but I won’t. Numbers are dry, images are dynamic. Just ask yourself this question: are you swimming with the sea of mobiles, or fighting against the tide?

*Sources for original images: Pope John Paul II funeral procession Luca Bruno – AP; Pope Francis ascension Michael Sohn – AP; 1990’s crowd image 123RF.com; 2010’s crowd image amadarose.co.uk


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