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A breakdown of E-Commerce Ads on mobiles and desktops

03 July 2018

The art of E-Commerce Advertising is rarely about ‘one size fits all’. In fact, when it comes to pushing ads out on desktop and mobile, the marketing strategies have to be as finely tailored as a bespoke suit.

While desktops have been seemingly around for ages, mobile devices – more specifically smartphones – have now become the undisputed champions in providing the masses with access to the Internet and E-Commerce. Interestingly, as India prepares to touch 500 million internet users in 2018,  ASSOCHAM states that there will also be more than 100 million online shoppers in the country for the first time. As of December 2016, the IAMAI and Kantar IMRB report titled Internet in India 2016 states that the country had 432 million internet users with 77% urban and 92% rural population using mobile as the primary access device, followed by 17% and 7% respectively preferring desktops.

Banking on this growth trend which has been predominant for many years, the E-Commerce revolution in India has taken off completely. This essentially means that more and more people, especially in the Tier III, IV cities and rural areas, have access to the Internet and are purchasing products online. For marketers, knowing which target groups prefer mobile or desktop at what stage of their journey, therefore, is critical.

Why? Because how consumers experience E-Commerce ads on a smartphone differs hugely from how they experience ads on their desktops.

According to  our data, more than 80% online shoppers make purchases through their smartphones. Yet, a  research titled The State of Cross-Device Commerce – India by Criteo S.A. in 2017 suggested that 74% online consumers still prefer browsing E-Commerce platforms on their desktops. Thus, it could be interpreted that online shoppers are relying on multiple devices to complete their consumer journey, with browsing consigned to desktops and purchases accomplished via mobile devices, predominantly.

One thing is clear – if a marketer intends to reach out to customers on either of the platforms, then the desktop and mobile ad strategies will depend on the customer being advertised to.

User Intent-based E-Commerce Ad Strategies

Before we get into any debate between desktop and mobile as advertising platforms, let’s begin with what drives device-led E-Commerce advertising strategies in first place. Consumer behaviour and intent which are, more often than not, different on both platforms.

Today, a general online shopper spends more time on the smartphone than ever before (4.5 hours). This is the space where high intent, high-value prospects are. Driving home the aforementioned point, global  research by Akamai reveals that:

  • 56% mobile users search for products weekly as compared to only 37% desktop users
  • 52% shoppers use their mobile phones to compare product prices weekly as compared to 34% on desktop
  • 35% of mobile device users carry out a weekly online purchase in comparison to a paltry 15% on the desktop.

Such behaviour can be attributed to increased smartphone penetration, a more personal and intimate connect with mobile devices, and the preference for E-Commerce apps. Additionally, users also prefer their mobile devices for making location-based product searches.  

What about desktops?

In the cases of purchasing big ticket items online, shoppers tend to get their research done on desktops. This is because the browsing experience is clutter-free and more convenient on a larger screen. Also, shoppers use their desktops for shopping when they are at work, owing to their desktops being their primary workstations.

Where does intent factor in?

It’s all a game of search queries. Generic product queries indicate low brand familiarity of a user at the start of the consumer journey. As the queries get more specific and brand-led, the consumer shows signs of transition through the consumer funnel. This means that while the former should be targeted with ads containing generalised value propositions presented in a shock-and-awe eye-catching manner, the latter can be successfully converted with detailed and engaging ads.  

Talking of ads on both platforms, research reveals that both banner ads and video ads generate different impact on mobile and desktop. According to a  MetrixLab whitepaper, mobile banners generate higher message recall and ad recognition amongst users since the share of the device screen occupied by mobile banners is more, leading to lesser clutter. Desktop banner ads, on the other hand, have better brand recall, likeability, credibility, purchase intent, brand interest, and comprehension due to bigger and better visual impact.

On mobile devices, video ad format is definitely a deal clincher. According to InMobi data, mobile video ads boast of 4X higher CTR over banner ads and 1.2X higher CTR over native ads. Since video ads on mobile tend to occupy the entire screen, they are more engaging for the audience. This means better breakthrough, message and brand recall, and ad recognition on hand-held devices. However, consumers respond more positively to desktop video ads in terms of likeability.

Conclusively, on the basis of behaviour, the basic approach for E-Commerce ad strategies can be defined as:

  • More engaging and interactive ad campaigns on mobile to improve brand recall
  • More stand-out and awe-inspiring ad campaigns on desktop to improve breakthrough

Where does it leave marketers and brands, then?

For starters, they need to figure out whether to prioritise advertising on one medium or opt for a more balanced omni-channel approach, based on the shoppers they are targeting.

Mobile and Desktops

Ditching mobile-ecommerce advertising for desktop E-Commerce advertising, or vice versa, is a gamble not worth taking. According to Criteo, more than 51% of India’s online shoppers now use two or more devices to shop online. And this number is only going to go through the roof.

Cross-channel interaction with E-Commerce sites and ads is, therefore, the new reality, and your ad strategy needs to have the best of both worlds. A Yahoo research paper states that using diverse channel activates disengaged consumers to shift into interested prospects. In addition, channel diversity is more effective for the early impressions.

This is certainly in vogue right now, with mobile ad spends set to overtake desktop spends in as early as 2019, as per the DAN Report. In fact, by 2020, digital media spends on mobile will grow at a CAGR of 49% to reach INR 11,392 Cr i.e. 60% of the media spends share.

This is why getting the ad combinations right across devices is so critical.

A mobile-first strategy, which essentially means designing ads for smaller screens and then adapting them progressively for desktops, works well because it is essentially a content-first strategy. Limitations to screen size and low attention spans on mobile means content in mobile ads is brand-centric, direct, engaging, and equipped with the most crucial information. Once all this has been figured out, marketers find modifying these ads for desktops with a different message relevant to audiences on larger screens.

In a country like India which is experiencing a tidal wave of high mobile adoption, especially in lower-tiered cities, a mobile-centric strategy is vital. The other advantage that mobile ads deliver is geo-location and the fact that user behaviour on mobiles mirrors their preferences. This gives advertisers the added advantage of mapping customer behaviour to target ads better using tools such as Flipkart Shopper Audience (FSA).

While desktop usage remains a rarity in rural India, it is still used by a lot of individuals in larger Indian cities, primarily at work. This is because at work, you can seamlessly integrate your E-Commerce browsing with your tasks on the large screen instead of switching between the phone and the desktop. As mentioned earlier, consumers in India still prefer browsing products on desktops due to better internet speeds, a better user experience, the convenience of doing research on multiple tabs, and a more comprehensive and detailed visual impact. Criteo reveals that 39% of all cross-device online shoppers use desktops as the primary device for browsing and smartphones as the final device for purchase. Desktops, therefore, remain very much in the E-Commerce advertising mix.


Purchasing online is no longer simply a device-exclusive action. With multiple device ownership soaring, consumers jump from one mobile to desktop numerous times before hitting the ‘Buy Now’ button. Logic dictates that the more touch points you offer to a customer, the likelier will be the conversion or purchase.

Hence, a brand’s ads need to be present on both mobile and desktop. This omni-channel presence will serve to boost brand recognition and recall when presented to target audiences at various stages of the funnel.

But merely doing that won’t do. The best E-Commerce ad strategy is to reach out to the relevant customer at the relevant time on the relevant device with the relevant ad. How?

  • Map out your audience and target groups with first and third-party deterministic data using tools like Flipkart Shopper Audience (FSA)
  • Create highly targeted, mobile-first ads to generate awareness and engagement
  • Optimise the ads for desktops and larger screens that leverage the effect generated by mobile ads
  • Retarget desktop ads to audience that engaged with mobile ads and generate sales.

Mobile and desktop E-Commerce ads are, evidently, two key pieces of the same marketing puzzle. And it is user-intent and behavioural data that ultimately reveal how the two pieces fit together. Put them all together, and you’ll have yourself a decisive victory for your brand.