Academe

Mobile Data Consumption Behaviors

 

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Jamie Wells

 

Statistics, Segmentation & Functionality.

Mobile technology, while still a relatively immature product and service category, has exhibited enormous growth in its twenty year history. While only a few years ago mobile use was reserved for the very rich, today it has achieved a staggering level of world-wide penetration. Across the planet, consumers are consuming mobile technology products and services across nearly every conceivable demographic, geographic and psychographic market segment. But what began as a relatively simple analogue voice telecommunications product has evolved into a digital Swiss Army knife, a multipurpose tool that serves to satisfy the very wants, needs and aspirations of the human condition.

2002, the year that “the total number of mobile subscribers overtook the number of fixed lines on a global scale,”[1] marked a milestone for mobile penetration and use. By the end of 2006 it is predicted that there will be 200 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States alone. Currently “as much as 4% of US consumers have discontinued their use of landlines in favor of mobile phones.”[2] Americans seemingly “view mobiles to be as necessary as gas, electricity and water.”[3] In Japan, use of the mobile internet is more prevalent than use of traditional wireline internet services,[4] and in the United Kingdom 1.73 billion mobile text messages were sent in one month in 2003.[5] Moreover, “60 percent of the 340 million digital image capture devices in use worldwide in 2004 were camera phones.”[6] Far from stagnant environment filled with relatively stable usage patterns, the mobile space is incredibly dynamic and constantly changing, as demonstrated by a UK study revealing that 68% percent of students surveyed had changed their phone network, contract or handset in the previous six month period.[7]

Current consumer mobile data services can be segmented into categories based on the “type of interactivity (machine interactivity versus person interactivity) and process characteristics (goal-directed versus experiential process).”[8] For example, SMS (short message service) would be categorized as person interactive and goal-directed, while the playing of a mobile game would be categorized as machine interactive and experiential.[9] Functionality can also be utilized to further segment mobile data services. For example, mobile commerce applications, defined as “those used to conduct business transactions,”[10] can be further segmented based on key functionality spheres: time-critical services, location-aware and location-sensitive services, identity-enacted services, and ubiquitous communications and content delivery services. Time-critical services, such as “SMS based notification or alerts (e.g. airline flight schedule changes, stock price alerts and quotations [and] home burglar alarms) provide time-critical value to users.”[11] Location-aware services are defined as those that provide a physically-relevant service, such as “road condition reporting, driving direction assistance [and] local tour guides.”[12] Identity-enacted services include secure processes such as “mobile banking and brokerage services, mobile money transfer [and] mobile micro-payments,” while ubiquitous communications include mobile marketing and video on demand.[13]

Consumer Attitude Formation & Mobile Usage Models.

A fit-viability framework can be utilized to predict consumer adoption of mobile commerce applications. A task should location-sensitive, time-critical, and personal if said task is to fit with mobile technology and its usage among consumers, while the “viability assessment needs to consider three key aspects: economic, organizational and societal” factors.[14] Economic determinations are based on a service’s cost-effectiveness, while organizational assessments are made on the service’s ease-of-use. Societal variables include “the penetration of mobile devices [and] culture.”[15]

Recent findings related to consumers rejecting several high-profile mobile service offerings are consistent with the fit-variability m-commerce model. For instance, upon a cursory examination mobile travel booking services may seem a good fit for transition into the mobile platform, as they are location-sensitive, time-critical and personal. Nevertheless these services are not viable on the mobile handset. High-involvement “purchases of travel packages involve careful planning, information searching and price comparisons,” ultimately proving too cumbersome to fit into known “patterns of consumer behavior.” [16]

Consumers had a similar experience with wireless banking services in the late 1990’s. The services were ultimately not viable on the mobile handset primarily due to societal factors. At the time mobile penetration rates were too low, and consumers were not yet comfortable transmitting their personal financial information through the wireless network. Financial institutions are now “taking a cautious approach, using the simplicity of alerts and notifications to ease consumers into broader wireless services rather than thrusting comprehensive applications on them all at once.”[17] The banking alerts satisfy nearly all of the criteria of the fit-viability model: they are time-sensitive, personal, cost-effective and easy to use. Furthermore, consumers now have had positive experiences with e-banking (wired internet), enhancing their comfort level with technology-related banking services.

In Japan “restaurant customers can check the freshness and quality of the fish on their plates”[18] by utilizing mobile data services. Consumers access the fish-related data by capturing an image of a code that comes with their meal with their mobile phones, and utilize the mobile internet for information retrieval. The code contains “a certificate stating the provenance right down to identity of the fishing boat that caught it.”[19] Again the m-commerce fit-viability model guidelines are firmly achieved: the mobile service in question is location-aware, time-sensitive and personal, while easy to use, reasonably priced, and culturally accepted.

While the fit-variability model for does provide a framework for m-commerce acceptance, many researchers have attempted to create even more dynamic models for predicting the success of mobile data service applications. As mobile services are rooted in a technology-based solution, most models attempting to predict acceptance of mobile data services begin with “Davis’s 1989 technology acceptance model (TAM),”[20] which was originally “adapted from the theory of reasoned action (TORA).”[21] TAM, created to predict the acceptance of technology in the workplace, is then modified to reflect a more consumer-orientation and everyday usage patterns.

Cheong and Park, in “examin[ing] the human motivations underlying individual behavioral intention to use M[obile]-internet in Korea”[22] build a model that considers “perceived playfulness, contents quality, system quality, internet experience and perceived price level in addition to [the TAM criteria of] perceived usefulness and ease of use.”[23]

The model recognizes that, as “the internet is often used not only for work but also for entertainment and pleasure… perceived playfulness (PPF) plays a significant role in the developing the intention to use as well as the attitude toward the system.”[24] Additionally, system quality is inherently relevant to the model, as “many people become reluctant to use [the mobile internet] when they experience frequent delay in response, frequent disconnection, lack of access, and poor security.”[25]

The mobile internet, unlike the services modeled under the workplace-orientated TAM model, is a technology paid for by the consumer. In making their determination of perceived price level, Cheong and Park note that the most frequent use of the mobile internet by Korean consumers was the downloading of “phone color ring service (ring sound download), game download, color ring back tone service (ring-back song download), music download, character download, GPS service (location-orientated service) and stock information service.”[26] This is significant because “the characteristic of these services is short time period needed for packet download” which “relates to the cost of using the mobile internet. On the contrary, downloading motion pictures such as movies, music videos and other adult materials is not popular.”[27]

Chang and Park’s M-Internet Consumer Behavioral Intention Model[28]

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A subjective online survey of 1,279 subjects was utilized to collect data for the model. Chang and Park’s study revealed that the “the highest predictive power for the intention to use the mobile internet belonged to the attitude toward the service, followed by the perceived playfulness and usefulness.” Additionally, “content quality was found to be more influential than the system quality in developing the perceived usefulness” of the mobile internet.[29]

In a similar study, Pagani examines the “determinants of adoption of third generation mobile multimedia services,” which are defined as mobile broadband services such as high-quality mobile media and other data intensive services. Pagani identifies the perceived benefits of 3G multimedia services as “mobility, availability, functions provided and accessibility,” with the perceived obstacles as “ease of use, limitations in bandwidth, cost, hardware and software functionalities (dimension of the device, battery life, display, speed and functions provided), [as well as] privacy issues.”[30]

In the modifying of the existing TAM model, Pagani utilized a survey of 1,000 mobile internet users in the United States and Italy. The study focused on “the following mobile multimedia services: photo messaging, mobile e-mail, video messaging and postcard messaging.” Panani’s model recognizes the following factors as influencing consumer’s perceived ease of use: Input Device, Output Device, Software Facilities, and Bandwidth. Panani’s model recognizes the following factors as influencing consumer’s perceived usefulness: Service Offerings, Degree of Mobility and Compatibility. Moreover, Pagani recognized two additional factors affecting consumer intentions to utilize 3G mobile multimedia services: Service Knowledge and Perceived[31] Innovation.

Pagani’s Mobile 3G Multimedia Service Consumer Behavioral Intention Model[32]

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Key among the study’s findings was that “usefulness emerge[d] as the most important factor in adopting mobile services,” followed by ease of use, price, and speed of use. Notably, Pagani’s model provides a contextual relationship with respect to how consumers view the perceived usefulness of the mobile internet, “depending on user perspectives. It can relate to saving money, saving time, or how much ‘fun’ a service is to use.” [33]

Additionally, Pagani’s study revealed five main segments “according to their propensity to adopt” these mobile services: Innovators, primarily populated by students (18-24) “who look mainly for low cost and convenience… [and are] mainly interested in [mobile] games in real time, multimedia messaging services, mobile shopping and location-based services; the Early Adopters, populated mainly by professionals attracted by usefulness, and who are “interested in remote control, portfolio and personal funds management;” the Early Majority, who are marked by a propensity not “to love technology for its own sake, believ[ing] in evolutionary, not revolutionary, products and services; the late majority, a pessimistic group characterized by their price-sensitivity and very demanding nature; and Laggards, who Pagani describes as “not as much potential customers as… potential critics.”[34]

Likewise, Bruner & Kumar attempt to explain consumer acceptance of handheld internet devices by employing a modified TAM model. Their model recognizes the additional external factors of “consumer visual orientation,” defined as the degree in which the consumer learns by way of vision, rather than oratory; and the type of mobile internet device in question, such as personal digital assistants (PDA) or mobile phones. Like the previously referenced studies, Bruner & Kumar’s model also recognizes an internal “fun” factor as an influence on consumer attitudes toward use of the mobile internet.

Bruner & Kumar’s Mobile Internet Consumer Acceptance Model[35]

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The Bruner and Kumar study utilized a survey of 212 undergraduate students at a large Midwestern US university operating under simulated conditions. The study revealed that “the fun of using a device was a more powerful determinant of attitudes toward usage than the perceived usefulness of the device,” and that ease of use greatly contributed to the consumer’s perception of fun with respect to the service.[36]

As compared to the previously referenced studies, Nysveen, Pedersen and Thorbjornsen take a more holistic approach to building their model to explain consumer attitudes and intent to utilize mobile data services. While, as with the previous models, Nysveen et. al. utilize some aspects of the TAM model in explaining behavioral intent towards consumer adoption of mobile services, they expand the scope of the model far beyond the aforementioned studies to include a variety of approaches from a many divergent marketing disciplines. For instance, the study incorporates the concepts of “subjective norm and image, adapted from the theory of reasoned action (TORA)”; consumer “available resources (perceived control), as predicted in the theory of planned behavior (TOPB);” and domestication research as it applies to “nonutilitarian motives (e.g. expressiveness, enjoyment) for using mobile devices [as] reported in studies from uses and gratification research”[37]

The model put forth by Nysveen et. al. posits that “motivational influences” to the adoption of mobile data services “include usefulness, ease of use, enjoyment and expressiveness;” that “social influences, or normative pressures… have a direct and positive effect on intention to use mobile services;” and that consumer intent is influenced by the consumer’s perceived degree of control of mobile services, such as economic factors (e.g. cost) or issues related to the skills need to access and/or utilize mobile services.[38]

Mobile Use Consumer Acceptance Model (Nysveen et. al.)[39]

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Nysveen et. al employed four subjective surveys conducted under simulated mobile usage conditions. The study revealed that while the “traditional antecedents based on the TAM” somewhat “explained mobile services usage either directly or indirectly,” the addition of normative pressures, perceived control, perceived expressiveness and perceived enjoyment greatly enhanced the model’s accuracy. It was found that “perceived ease of use has both a direct and an indirect (through perceived usefulness) effect on attitude toward using mobile services, and perceived usefulness is a significant antecedent of attitude toward using mobile services.” The study also confirmed the conclusion by the previously referenced studies that “perceived enjoyment also positively influences attitudes toward using mobile services.”[40]

Mobile Consumption Meanings.

Utilization of mobile products and services holds a far greater meaning than simply the purchasing of mobile handsets, the downloading of graphics, and the sending of messages. Indeed, the consumption of mobile services “is to a greater degree seen as a means of self expression, individual identity-formation, creativity, or even art.”[41] Using mobile technology, consumers express their identity by “personalizing the appliance itself through design, size, the color of covers, ringtones, logos, screensavers and other accessories,”[42] as well as the actual use of the various available mobile products and services.

SMS messaging is by far the most popular mobile data service both domestically and worldwide. In 2004 more than 100 billion SMS messages were sent world-wide,[43] demonstrating the service as an ideal subject in the examination of mobile data consumption meanings. As with “asynchronous text-based [wired] internet services” such as traditional email services, SMS messaging is “valued because [it] allows users time to select, craft and edit the personality they present.” Studies have shown that consumers develop “new and deeper relationships”[44] through the use of SMS messaging.

Patterson, in his “Processes, relationships, settings, products and consumers: the case for qualitative diary,” recorded all text messages sent and received by 122 heavy users of SMS text messaging in the United Kingdom for a period of one week. Additionally, participants were encouraged to record their thoughts as related to messaging in general, or specific messages recorded in the study. His findings revealed the public arrival of an incoming SMS message (publicized by a specific audio chimes), has an enhancement effect on the social standing of consumers.

Additionally, Patterson’s study reveals the subtle artistry in crafting “the perfect” SMS messaging response.[45]

A “good” text message it seems should be impulsive, flippant, and off-the-cuff. Ironically, to achieve this effect a “textpert” needs to exercise the pedantic circumspection of an advertising copywrighter, ruthlessly scrutinizing the tone, style and phraseology of any given message prior to communicating with the intended audience.[46]

It is the unique brevity of the SMS message (usually confined to 160 characters in length) that renders it so challenging an art form. Consequently, as evident by Peterson’s data, it is common for consumers on the receiving end of these simple messages are left pondering the meaning of a message for hours after receiving it, “turning it every which way, exploring all possible motives, meanings and connotations. Each is a written riddle that they have been set to solve… Never, as the cliché goes, has so little meant so much.”[47]

Overall, the identity-building aspect of mobile use is the most revealing aspect of the technology’s effect on consumer behavior. Jarvenpaa et. al’s 2003 study “Mobile Commerce at the Crossroads” reveals that many surveyed “viewed their mobile devices as essential elements of the intimate, personal space, having integrated them as part of their own identity.”[48] Through the use of SMS messaging, consumers can construct their own virtual identity, free from the physical restraints of everyday life. SMS use “provides a way for tongue-ties adolescents to speak without speaking, spare red-faced blushes, declare intentions, offer invitations, and at the same time, avoid the abjection caused by face-to-face rejection.”[49]

The symbolic consumption meanings of mobile use are further explored by Dedeoglu in his 2004 study “The Symbolic Use of Mobile Telephone Among Turkish Consumers.” Through a series of focus group interviews with Turkish adolescents and young adults ranging from 15 to 25 years old, Dedeoglu confirms the identity-building aspect of mobile usage. He concludes that all of the participants in his study “regard the mobile phone as a compulsory good,” and are often utilized as a “fashion item and customized so as to signify the self-image of the user.” Additionally, his study reveals the mobile phone “as a signifier for prestige and pride,” and that consumers, through the use of the mobile phone, express that they are “popular, modern, social, open to communication and attached to his/her social network. Social approval, conformation to the environment [and] personality expression [are] found to be the most important factors.[50]

Discussion

While the aforementioned consumer attitude and usage models represent a remarkable level of insight and thought, it is surprising that several prominent attitudinal influencers are conspicuously overlooked. For instance, only one of the models recognizes that normative pressures will influence consumer attitudes towards mobile services. This model, constructed by Nysveen et. al, views normative pressures as those exerted by those outside the subject. This approach flies in the face of the very concept of subjective reasoning. A more accurate approach would view normative pressures not as an objective absolute, but as a subjective quality whereby the pressures are based on what the subject perceives to be the norm.

Similarly, none of the aforementioned models consider the affects of substitute products have on attitude formation. For instance, in the United States there are more networked personal computers per capita than anywhere in the world. It stands to reason that access to substitutes to mobile internet services (such as wireline internet devices) would negatively affect consumer attitudes and/or behavioral intent. Conversely, one would expect consumers in areas of the world with limited access to traditional wireline internet services would be more inclined to accept and/or use the mobile internet.

In conclusion, the use of mobile data services uniquely lends itself to the notion of the postmodern self, where consumers create their identities by way of the simultaneous sampling of many “micro-identities.” On the mobile handset it seems, information is consumed in very small portions, known throughout the mobile industry as “information snacking.” From the shortest SMS message, to the mobile handset’s “micro-browser,” to the tiniest snippets of popular music use to create downloadable ringtones, the consumption of mobile data services is in fact the very paradigm of the postmodern consumer.

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Bruner, Gordon C. et. al. “Explaining Consumer Acceptance of Handheld Internet Devices.” Journal of Business Research 58 (2005): pp. 553-558.

Cheong et. al. “Mobile Internet Acceptance in Korea.” Internet Research. 15.2 (2005) pp. 125-140.

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[1] Srivastava, Laura. “Japan’s Ubiquitous Mobile Information Society.” Info : the Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications 6.4 (2004): pp. 234-249.[2] Zhang, Xiaoni et. al. “How the Mobile Communication Markets Differ in China, the U.S., and Europe.” Communications of the ACM 48.3 (2005): pp. 111-114.[3] Haque, Ahasanul. “Mobile Commerce: Customer Perception and It’s Prospect on Business Operation in Malaysia.” Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge 4.1/2 (2004): pp. 257-262.[4] Lee, Young Eun et. al. “A Framework for the Study of Customer Interface Design for Mobile Commerce.” International Journal of Electronic Commerce 8.3 (2004): pp. 79-102.[5] Reid, Fraiser J.M et. al. “Text Appeal: The Psychology of SMS Texting and its Implications for the Design of Mobile Phone Interfaces.” Campus-Wide Information Systems 21.5 (2004): pp. 196-200.[6] Barbeau, Pierre. “Printing the Mobile Image at Retail.” Imaging Business Apr/May, 2005: pg. 18.[7] “Mobile Phones: Don’t Take Students for Granted.” Marketing Week Jun 30, 2005: p 38[8] Nysveen et. al. “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33.3 (2005) pp. 330-346.[9] Nysveen et. al. “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33.3 (2005) pp. 330-346.[10] Liang, Ting-Peng. “Introduction to the Special Issue: Mobile Commerce Applications.” International Journal of Electronic Commerce 8.3 (2004): pp. 7-17.[11] Ibid.[12] Ibid.[13] Ibid.[14] Ibid.[15] Ibid.[16] Wang, Sophia et. al. “E-Business Adoption by Travel Agencies: Prime Candidates for Mobile e-Business.” International Journal of Electronic Commerce 8.3 (2004): pp. 43-63.[17] Grebb, Michael. “Why Wireless Banking Isn’t a Hit Yet with Consumers.” Bank Technology News 17.2 (2004): pg. 41.[18] McClelland, Stephen. “Japan: A Future Mobile Society?” Telecommunications Americas 39.8 (2005). pg. S12.[19] McClelland, Stephen. “Japan: A Future Mobile Society?” Telecommunications Americas 39.8 (2005). pg. S12.[20] Nysveen et. al. “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33.3 (2005) pp. 330-346.[21] Cheong et. al. “Mobile Internet Acceptance in Korea.” Internet Research. 15.2 (2005) pp. 125-140.[22] Ibid.[23] Ibid.[24] Ibid.[25] Ibid.[26] Ibid.[27] Ibid.[28] Ibid.[29] Ibid.[30] Pagani, Margherita. “Determinants of Adoption of Third Generation Multimedia Services.” Journal of Interactive Marketing 18.3 (2004): pp. 46-58.[31] Pagani, Margherita. “Determinants of Adoption of Third Generation Multimedia Services.” Journal of Interactive Marketing 18.3 (2004): pp. 46-58.[32] Ibid.[33] Ibid.[34] Ibid.[35] Bruner, Gordon C. et. al. “Explaining Consumer Acceptance of Handheld Internet Devices.” Journal of Business Research 58 (2005): pp. 553-558.[36] Ibid.[37] Nysveen et. al. “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33.3 (2005) pp. 330-346.[38] Nysveen et. al. “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33.3 (2005) pp. 330-346.[39] Ibid.[40] Nysveen et. al. “Intentions to Use Mobile Services: Antecedents and Cross-Service Comparisons.” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 33.3 (2005) pp. 330-346.[41] Wilska, Terhi-Anna. “Mobile Phone Use as part of Young People’s Consumption Styles.” Journal of Consumer Policy 26.4 (2003): pp. 441[42] Wilska, Terhi-Anna. “Mobile Phone Use as part of Young People’s Consumption Styles.” Journal of Consumer Policy 26.4 (2003): pp. 441[43] Tsang, Melody et. al. “Consumer Attitudes Toward Mobile Advertising: An Empirical Study” International Journal of Electronic Commerce 8.3 (2004): 65-78[44] Reid, Fraiser J.M et. al. “Text Appeal: The Psychology of SMS Texting and its Implications for the Design of Mobile Phone Interfaces.” Campus-Wide Information Systems 21.5 (2004): pp. 196-200.[45] Patterson, Anthony. “Processes, relationships, settings, products and consumers: the case for qualitative diary research.” Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal. 8.2 (2005): pp. 142-156.[46] Ibid[47] Ibid[48] Jarvenpaa, Sirkka L. “Mobile Commerce at the Crossroads.” Communications of the ACH 46.12 (2003): p. 41-4[49] Patterson, Anthony. “Processes, relationships, settings, products and consumers: the case for qualitative diary research.” Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal. 8.2 (2005): pp. 142-156.[50] Dedeiglu, Ayla. “The Symbolic Use of Mobile Telephone Among Turkish Consumers.” Journal of Euromarketing 12.2/3 (2004): p. 143-162