Ecommerce sites' mobile templates hide information that shoppers use to save money

In Do Consumers Make Less Accurate Decisions When They Use Mobiles?, a study by researchers at Ben Gurion University accepted for presentation at next month's International Conference on Information Systems in Munich, the researchers seek to discover why consumers spend more money on ecommerce sites when using mobile devices than when they use laptops and other, larger screens.

Specifically, the researchers are trying to determine whether small screen size is the dispositive factor, or whether there is something specific about mobile templates that gooses online spending. Smaller screens do typically result in some information being hidden or omitted, but it's not clear whether any omission would produce worse bargains for shoppers, or whether the specific, deliberate choices that ecommerce sites make when designing their mobile templates bring about this result.

They conducted laboratory experiments in which the information available to shoppers was varied, and found that there was no reason that the information necessary for comparison shopping couldn't be presented, even on small screens -- and that that information was present, shoppers got better deals on hotel rooms.

The authors don't offer any guesses as to why sites' designers chose to omit information that led to their customers getting better bargains and spending less. There's an obvious interpretation -- that the sellers know which information leads to better outcomes for shoppers, and they adjust the sites' templates accordingly so that they make more while shoppers get less.

But there's another explanation that is, in its own way, more revealing: the designers might simply have tried a variety of A/B split design experiments whose success was measured in how much shoppers spent, without interrogating where the excess revenue was coming from. One step at a time, the designers could have arrived at the same design, and because they never conducted the kind of research in this paper, they could assure themselves that somehow, their mobile templates had revealed information to shoppers that made them willing to spend more money, thus increasing their satisfaction.

Rationalization and self-deception are far more common (and ultimately, more corrosive) than mere sociopathy. It is through their action that "good people" end up doing bad deeds. "Never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to incompetence is all well and good," but I'm more partial to "It's impossible to explain something to a man whose paycheck depends on his not understanding it."

The two experiments are consistent in showing that the hypothesized effects of mobile use on information processing (information seeking and information load) and on decision making (decision accuracy) are the consequence of the mobile display rather than of the mobile device. Evidently, in our research setting, decisions with mobiles are less accurate because users are exposed to less information on the main page and not because they have to process the information via a smaller screen. We find that the mobile displayincreases information seeking, decreases information load, and decreases decisions accuracy. We further find that when the information subset presented on the mobile display is of higher quality (i.e., more informative given user preferences), the disadvantages of the mobile display are mitigated and its advantages are intensified. Our findings are of value because we are able to replicate them in two laboratory experiments, which increase internal validity by controlling for potential confounding, in particular the higher probability of environmental interruptions during mobile use. The contributions of this work to the information systems literature are threefold. First, it is among the first studies that aim at investigating how mobile use affects information processing and decision making relative to PC use. Second, the study contributes by breaking down the concept of use into two orthogonal factors – device and display – which are typically confounded in the case of mobile use. Third, the study advances the literature by constructing and testing a research model in which information seeking and information load mediate effects on decision accuracy. From a practical standpoint, our finding that the mobile display reduces information load is an indication that responsive designs are effective. However, we show that this benefit comes at the cost of increased information seeking and decreased decision accuracy. Finally, we show that the benefits of mobile use are higher and its costs are lower when the information presented on the mobile display is more informative given individual user preferences.

Do Consumers Make Less Accurate Decisions When They Use Mobiles? [Daniele Papismedov and Lior Fink/Association for Information Systems' International Conference on Information Systems]

(Image: Ervins Strauhmanis, CC BY, modified; Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA, modified)

(via Naked Capitalism)