The Thumb Is in Charge

Over the past decade, the mobile device has evolved from a simple texting and talking device into a hub for everything—music listening, video viewing, image capturing, socializing, discovering, researching, shopping and more. It’s changed how we connect, how we share, how we discover and how we get things done.

Magazine_ThumbnailBut it’s not as much about the device as it is about the person behind the device.

Mobile technology has put incredible power and control in people’s hands—particularly the thumb. The thumb is now in charge.

Over the next several weeks, Facebook IQ will be taking a closer look at what marketers need to know and do now that the thumb is in charge, especially when it comes to commerce. We’ll look at the rise of mobile commerce in the US, how it’s shifting people’s behavior, the role of mobile in the overall path to purchase and what it all means for brands.

This first post in a series of blog posts will focus on 3 shifts that are revolutionizing commerce:

  • From desktop to mobile
  • From one screen and one channel to many
  • From big screens to small screens

From desktop to mobile

The shift from desktop to mobile is one of the biggest stories of our time, and perhaps one of the biggest in the history of retail. And it’s moving at a rapid pace.  According to eMarketer, US retail m-commerce sales are estimated to reach $74 billion this year, up 32% from 2014.1 And this strong growth is expected to continue, with total m-commerce sales reaching roughly $149 billion by 2019.1

Facebook IQ is seeing this development reflected in people’s shifting behaviors. Of the conversions we saw from January to May of this year, 3 in 10 online purchases took place on mobile (24% on a phone, 6% on a tablet).2 During that same period, the frequency of mobile purchases increased 35%, according to Facebook IQ’s latest internal analysis.2

Looking beyond mobile transactions to the people transacting on mobile, over the course of the year, those purchasing on a mobile device steadily increased.3 And in Q4, Facebook IQ predicts that the percentage of online purchasers who buy on mobile will grow 30%.3


There are many factors driving people to buy products on mobile devices, chief among them convenience and mobility: 56% of omni-channel shoppers said that they made a purchase on a mobile device because it was conveniently in their hand already and 55% said because they can do it “anywhere, anytime.”4

Looking ahead, 60% of omni-channel shoppers say they’ll either start purchasing or purchase more on their smartphones in 2016.4

From one device and one channel to many

However, the path to purchase is by no means linear. In today’s multi-device world, people are discovering on one device, researching on another and converting on a third. Add in activity that happens in-store and it becomes even more complex.

The one constant in people’s cross-device and cross-channel shopping journeys is mobile. Mobile has become our constant companion, with 73% of people saying that it is always with them.4 Whether it’s in their pocket or in their hand, mobile has the ability to influence people along every step of their consumer journey.

Call it the “M-Factor.” Given the amount of time we’re spending on mobile versus other media and its inherent functionality and convenience, our mobile device is increasingly where we go to research products and services, compare prices, check availability and get information while in-store. It’s where we discover new things, follow brands and get exposed to ads.


From big screens to small screens

As we spend more time on mobile, we’re shifting from big screens to small screens. But it turns out that the small screen isn’t so small. As we found in previous research, people perceive the screen on a smartphone to be much more larger than it is; how people’s brains process a screen’s size is highly influenced by how close they feel physically and emotionally to that screen.5

But, even though the screen appears larger, when it comes to shopping, it still needs to work harder. The top reasons omni-channel shoppers cited for buying on their desktop or laptop computers versus their smartphones or tablets included finding it easier to use a bigger screen (54%) and see all the available products on a desktop/laptop (54%) and finding it difficult to compare products/retailers, get all the info they need (26%) and enter personal data on a smartphone (26%).4

In a world where screen real estate is shrinking, personalization, visualization and experimentation is becoming increasingly important. Brands can help people discover products and services that are most relevant to them, rethink how they can present product details to be more visually oriented and get comfortable testing, iterating and optimizing for mobile.

What it means for marketers

The thumb is in charge now, and the thumb is far more demanding. It’s quick to scroll. It’s quick to close. Quick to flip the page. But with the right approach, the thumb is also highly likely to stop, engage and buy.

Now that the thumb is in charge, what do we need to keep in mind?

Think people, not devices: It’s tempting for us to think in terms of channels or devices, but it’s always been about people. To reach the right people in the right place at the right time, we need to understand how and where they engage, discover and share.

Know the journey: The path from connection to conversion isn’t always a straight line, with people switching devices and channels at will. The more complete the measurement picture, the better we can account for mobile’s role in driving buying behavior—both online and offline.

Design for the thumb: Stopping the thumb takes more than mobile design; it takes personalization, visualization and experimentation. Above all, it takes empathy. The more we can put ourselves in people’s shoes and understand their experience, the better experience we can create.


Check out the video below and see Erin Hunter Sills, Facebook’s Head of Global Consumer Insights, lay out the 3 shifts revolutionizing commerce.


1 “US Retail Mcommerce Sales, 2013–2019” by eMarketer, Aug 2015.
2 Facebook internal data, US only, Jan–May 2015. Analysis of conversion pixel and App Events data for ads that were shown to people ages 18+ on Facebook. The gaming vertical is excluded from this analysis.
3 Facebook internal data, US only, Oct 2014–Sep 2015. Predictive modeling and analysis of conversion pixel or App Events data for ads that were shown to people ages 18+ on Facebook and that led to purchases between $2–$1,000. Gaming ads were not tracked. Predictive modeling was used to distinguish mobile and desktop shoppers.
4 “Omni-channel Shoppers” by GfK, US only (Facebook-commissioned online study and opt-in panel of 2,407 people ages 18+ who have researched online and bought 1 of 5 key categories in last 3 months), conducted to quantify key differences in shopping behavior across channels (tablets, mobile phones, PCs, brick-and-mortar retails) and fielded Sep 16–18, 2015.
5 “Neuro Mobile” by SalesBrain (study of US adults commissioned by Facebook), May 2015.