Mobile Overtakes Desktop, but less than…

Mobile Overtakes Desktop, but less than One-Third Convert on Mobile in the UK

Mobile ad spend exceeded desktop for the first time in 2018

According to Ofcom, Britons check their smartphones every 12 minutes of the waking day. Over the past decade, smartphone ownership has grown from 17% to 78%, peaking at 95% for people aged 16-24 yo. With the rollout of 5G promising super-fast connectivity, consumers will be further glued to their mobile devices and the internet.

A recent study from IAB and PWC, showed that the advertising industry has caught up too. For the first time last year, mobile ad spend exceeded desktop, rising from 45% share in 2017 to 51% in 2018. Digital advertising overall had also grown +15% YoY to reach over £13 billion in the UK.

We promise this won’t be another “Year of Mobile” article. Instead, this article looks at how online industries differ when it comes to mobile vs. desktop rates. By splitting out browsing and purchasing behaviours, we show how there is still room to optimise conversions on mobile devices.

Ad Spend Stats in 2018

Mobile Ad Share


Up from 45%
in 2017

Mobile Ad Spend

£6.9 B

Up £1.65B

Total Ad Spend

£13.4 B

Up 15%

Source: IAB and PwC Study, 2018 figures 

Mobile web rates largely differ by industry

Mobile has overtaken desktop when it comes to website behaviours, which includes online activity on Chrome and Internet Explorer and so on, but there is a disparity across industries.

Industries with regular updates, such as News & Media, Lifestyle and Sports, see over 60% of web behaviour occur on mobile. Ones with higher levels of privacy, like Health & Media and Gambling, understandably have a greater share on mobile devices.

In contrast, Entertainment and Social Media industries favour desktop over mobile for website activity. Instead, consumers interface on-app for their Facebook, Instagram, Netflix and YouTube fixes.

Desktop is fading out though across all industries. Mobile web rates have risen by over +7% YoY, peaking at +16% YoY for News & Media and Lifestyle sites.

Device Split & Mobile Share YoY
By Industries
Mobile Share by Industry
Source: Hitwise, UK. August 2019 YoY.Reports web visits on mobile vs. desktop.

Mobile eclipses desktop in almost all retail categories

These trends are also apparent within retail categories. More “discrete” industries, such as Intimate Apparel and Health & Beauty, have almost 70% of web activity on mobile. Mobile rates on core categories, like House & Garden and Fashion, have also increased by over +10% YoY.

There is still room for desktop for certain categories. Industries that cater to B2B environments, such as Office Supplies, have a 35:65 split on mobile vs. desktop.

Device Split & Mobile Share YoY
By Retail Categories
Device Split - Mobile Ad Spend by Retail Categories
Source: Hitwise, UK. August 2019 YoY.Reports web visits on mobile vs. desktop.

There’s still a long way to go for transacting on mobile web

Despite this advantage on mobile, consumers are more likely to purchase on a desktop browser. The below chart zooms into the top 20 retail sites (refer to appendix for full list). When it comes to general visit behaviours, there is an even split between mobile vs. desktop. Looking at actual purchases, average mobile share decreases to 28%.

Device Split for Visits vs. Purchases
Top 20 Retailers
Device Split - Top 20 Retailers
Source: Hitwise, UK. August 2019.Weighted average over top 20 retailers.

This indicates that consumers are increasingly conducting their search and browsing behaviours on mobile web. But they’re not equally confident or seamless at continuing their purchases on mobile. Instead, journeys break onto desktop, in-store or on-app, particularly for higher ticket items with longer research-to-purchase cycles.

So, how can retailers bridge this gap on mobile?

Etsy example: How to convert mobile web traffic

One way to optimise mobile web conversions is to firstly pinpoint visitors who DON’T transact (“Browsers”), and understand their needs and interests through search. By also identifying searches that occur on mobile vs. desktop, retailers can further refine their paid search by device and by audience.

This is shown below for one of the top 20 retail sites, Etsy. In August, over 3.3 million people visited Etsy’s site, but only 214K made an online purchase. This leaves over 3.1 million visitors who just “browsed”. On mobile, Etsy’s Browsers were more likely to search for “Harry Potter wedding gifts” and “family name signs”. On desktop, this audience was looking for “confetti holders” and “hen party” accessories.

Etsy’s Visitors that DON’T Purchase
How Search by Device can help win them back
Converting Mobile Etsy Traffic

Source: Hitwise, UK. August 2019. Audience = visited Etsy’s site, did not transact. Searches = filtered to Top400 terms to Etsy’s site by this audience. 

This data has several tactical uses. By having an audience lens, Etsy could feed these keywords into their mobile paid search to target their Browsers. This can also feed into ranging and promotional decisions, ensuring their site stocks and features products that their Browsers are looking for.

Bridge the gap with search analytics by device AND audience

Mobile continues to overtake desktop for web activity across different industries and retail categories. But we haven’t reached this stage for mobile web purchases, leaving a significant opportunity for brands to convert on mobile devices.

We’ve walked through an example of how search data by device AND audience can help connect the dots between search, browsing and purchase touchpoints. We would argue when the consumer’s journey seamlessly connects on mobile, we can then finally say it is the “Year of Mobile”.


Top 20 Retail Sites = Amazon, eBay, Argos, Next, John Lewis, ASOS, Marks & Spencer, Curry’s, Etsy, Tesco Groceries, Tesco, Debenhams, Asda Groceries, Asda Direct, Sainsbury, New Look, Very, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing.

About Hitwise Mobile Data

50% of Hitwise panel data comes from mobile devices, ensuring we accurately reflect today’s internet population and how they use the web. Thanks to our sample size and frequency of data collection, we can extract digital insights on a granular and actionable level. This allows us to report on search terms by device and by audience, which can directly support e-commerce and digital marketing efforts.

For more info on mobile insights and applications, contact us here.

How can you use search data to enhance your digital marketing? Learn more here.

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