Smartphone usage makes consumers prefer unique, tailored products

By our News Team | 2022

Researchers examine how our smartphones are pushing us to unconsciously prefer buying customised products and services.

Personalised wine lists. Tailored clothing options. Unique experiences just for you.

The world is awash in products and services that promise to provide custom experiences to every consumer. And it turns out our smartphones are pushing us to unconsciously prefer just these kinds of customised options.

A new study from the University of Florida in the US has discovered that consumers gravitate toward customised, rare or special products when they are engrossed in their phones. 

Customised Products

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

The highly private and personalised feelings we have toward our phones seem to encourage us to express our unique selves more than if we buy products on a laptop or desktop — or borrow someone else’s phone to browse shopping sites.

These findings suggest that companies should change what they offer to consumers, depending on what device they are using. The smartphone’s activation of a self-expression mindset also likely alters a range of behaviours, such as how people respond to political polls on mobile devices.

“When you use your phone, your authentic self is being expressed to a greater extent. That affects the options you seek and the attitudes you express,” said Aner Sela, a professor at the university and one of the authors of the study.

Professor Sela and his former doctoral student Camilla Song, who is now an assistant professor at City University of Hong Kong, published their findings this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Marketing Research.

Smartphones cause a state of ‘private self-focus’

The researchers suspected that smartphones would turn people inward to reflect on their unique identity. This psychological state is known as ‘private self-focus’ and affects all kinds of behaviours.

“People with high levels of private self-focus tend to be more independent in the attitudes that they express. They conform less,” Sela said. “When they make choices, they tend to choose based on privately or deeply held beliefs, preferences or tastes and they’re less influenced by social contexts.”

Across five experiments with undergraduate students and online respondents, Sela and Song tested if smartphones could encourage enough private self-focus to change behaviour.

The researchers found that people using smartphones were much more likely to prefer unique items rather than popular ones, or to choose products that they were told had been tailored to their personality, than if they used a larger computer. These effects disappeared if they were given a loan phone of the same brand.

“With a borrowed phone, it doesn’t feel like you’re in your own little bubble. What we find is the use of a smartphone and its activation of private self-focus is really unique to a personal device,” Sela explained.

In related research yet to be published, Sela and Song also discovered that consumers are also more brand loyal and less likely to return items they bought with their phones. The increased self-focus also leads people to express deeply held beliefs, like political opinions, more strongly.

These findings, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones, suggest that this unconscious push toward self-expression could influence nearly all our behaviours—from ordering takeaway food to online dating.

Find out more about the published research here.