Are attention spans really getting shorter?

 Kate Box, head of retail, Facebook ANZ
By Kate Box, head of retail, Facebook ANZ | 10 September 2019

It’s a common misconception that people’s attention spans are getting shorter. The reality is, there’s no evidence for this assumption. It’s quite simply a case of people getting better at filtering the irrelevant content out of their lives by ignoring it and putting a premium on their time.

You don’t need to look far for proof of this trend. Some of the last decade’s most profitable start-ups are those that offer greater efficiencies - services like ride-sharing and click and collect meals. Or as the oft-repeated Silicon Valley quote runs, “things your mum used to do for you”.

This intolerance of inconvenience is now manifesting itself in the way customers are shopping. They expect convenience as the key plank in their purchase path.

In the past marketers would woo customers with reduced prices or new marquee store locations, but today they are putting the carnation between the teeth and drawing them in with a speedy and seamless transaction.

One very recent trend is that consumers seldom give a second chance to those who don’t provide a top-notch experience. Research from Texas-based supply chain experts Convey tells us that 83% of consumers are unlikely to shop with a brand again after a bad experience. That’s just one in six who will come back if you mess things up.

An additional study from the Denmark-based Baymard Institute reveals that a staggering US$260 billion ($365 billion) is lost to abandoned carts online each year2. And with 5G networks on the horizon, if your mobile experience isn’t up to scratch, you can be sure your competitors will be queuing up to surpass your offering.

So with time - or a lack of it - and an appetite for convenience the keys to a consumer’s heart, the challenge is to make your marketing strategy match these desires.

The first step is to consider the lifestyle of your target audience and incorporate a degree of personalisation into your marketing. This is informed by a growing trove of evidence that tells us embracing the unique profile of your customers can reap serious dividends.

As a consumer segment, consider the apparel market for a moment. A Facebook-commissioned consumer journey study by Accenture indicates that over 70% of respondents polled find that one form of personalisation - anything from relevant promotions to engaging advertisements and tailored product recommendations - increases their likelihood of making a purchase. This trend is even more stark among young adults and females.

There are other developing mediums for product placement that can further personalise a customer’s experience too, with augmented reality (AR) being a significant example.

Accenture’s Digital Consumer Survey from late 2017 reveals that over half of Australians are interested in AR devices to visualise how clothes might fit them and how they might shop for household items and furniture. It’s evidence that these emerging technologies have already had an impact on the consciousness of consumers - the legacy of Pokemon Go is soon to be realised.

Beyond tailoring the customer experience, the next step is to ensure you are utilising the right channels.

Today the most important location for a business is not the physical site, but its online headquarters. This is because we no longer go shopping, we are always shopping. And it’s how we’re shopping that is particularly intriguing.

Research from eMarketer and Deloitte tells us that last year 40% of shopping was comprised of traditional, non-digital purchases. Another 23% was conducted at a desktop touchpoint, while 37% was done via mobile. And it’s this last segment that is projected to continue to grow massively in the coming years.

Taking one step back in the purchase path, it’s interesting to note that the discovery of products is now occurring chiefly by mobile. The net result: foot traffic to physical shopfronts is down, but conversions are up.

One other interesting trend from the rise of mobile-first shopping is the time spent from browsing to purchase. In essence it’s shorter than ever before.

When comparing mobile to desktop, consumers look at an average of five fewer products on mobile, and according to 2018 Facebook IQ Data, in the case of apparel purchases, over a quarter of respondents will spend less than five minutes on purchases.

It’s the modern-day equivalent of the impulse buy at the checkout. Clearly, as increasing numbers of people shop on mobile, it’s more important than ever that your sales point experience is flawless.

Consequently, there’s a trend on mobile with marketers finding more ingenious ways to grab the attention of consumers. Unburdened by traditional big budget advertising constraints, they are able to be much more agile with their communications.

Instagram has changed the beauty industry as consumers now have lots more choice with the products they browse and purchase. Across all industries, some 350,000 small businesses in Australia are now using the platform to grow their businesses.

Similarly, 10 billion messages are passing between consumers and businesses every month globally on Messenger. Currently 13 million Australians use the service, and it is only in its infancy in terms of giving people a more seamless purchasing experience.

These mobile first apps are changing the game online for smaller players too. IRI market research tells us that 49% of the top brands in the US in 2018 were small manufacturers, meaning it’s not just the big players who are capitalising on evolving digital technology.

It might seem surprising, but with an understanding of what makes your customers tick - and astute use of the right channels - even a teenager with big dreams in their garage can make their mark in the retail world. Today, it’s all about a frictionless customer journey.


1. “Last Mile Delivery: What Shoppers Want & How to #SaveRetail” Convey Research 2018
2. Survey of 41 companies’ Cart Abandonment Rate Statistics, Baymard Institute 2019
3. “Retail/eCommerce Consumer Journey Study” by Accenture {Facebook commissioned online study of 1001 respondents ages 18+, Australia, July 2018}
4. Accenture Digital Consumer Survey: Accenture commissioned study conducted online between October and November 2017, surveyed 1,000 consumers representative of online population in Australia (AUS) to determine digital usage habits / preferences
5. eMarketer, February 2017, Estimate for FY 2018
6. Australian Financial Review, February 1, 2019
7. Facebook Q2 Earnings 2018, Facebook IQ, “The Art of Communication: Messages That Matter” by Greenberg, Inc., Nov 2017
8. IRI Announces Most Successful Consumer Packaged Goods of 2017, August 2018

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