As 2015 comes to a close, Mintel’s Senior Technology and Media Analyst Billy Hulkower looks back on the year, highlighting key digital trends that have emerged in the US, including their impact on consumers and brands…

Smartphones take over as the primary screen

What a difference two years can make. In 2013, Mintel research found that 57% of US online adults owned a smartphone. Just two years later, ownership is up to three out of four adults as a host of activity formerly conducted on PCs is now being conducted on smartphones.

The loss in penetration in activities on a PC is nearly identical to the gains seen on smartphones. Mintel research shows that over a three month span, consumers used their PCs 12% less to check the weather, while they used their phone 12% more often; consumers also checked their email 6% less on PCs while showing a 6% increase on their phones. As advancements in smartphone technology continue, and smartphones become more powerful, we see this trend continuing.

Self-expression explodes online

Consumers are displaying more comfort sharing personal aspects of their lives with the online world. In fact, Mintel research shows that in 2015, US consumers are twice as likely as they were in 2013 to participate in online dating, with 20% of online adults doing so. It’s easier than ever for users to share their opinions, and connect, with nearby strangers via their dating profile.

Another emerging activity that can be deemed a form of self-expression is blogging, which one quarter of consumers are doing in 2015 compared to just 16% in 2013. This coincides with the more than three in five consumers who are sharing photos and videos online, as well as using visual communication services. Internet services of almost any kind can build on this trend by allowing and urging users to curate and personalize content.

24/7 connectivity delivers knowledge with the tap of a finger

With constant connectivity via mobile devices, a variety of online activities are becoming nearly universally accomplished. Not so long ago, checking the weather and getting travel directions were reserved for televisions and PCs. Now, consumers literally have all this knowledge in the palm of their hands.

61% of consumers read product or service reviews online in 2015 vs 47% in 2013

As highlighted in Mintel’s American Lifestyles 2015 report, 69% of consumers seek out advice and opinions on goods and services before purchasing. This is backed by a 14% increase (since 2013) in consumers who report that they read product or service reviews online and three in five consumers conducting online research to find local activities compared to just half in 2013. Instant access to information and organization tools have become the norm, and in many cases, a necessity for consumers, and the rise of smartwatches speaks to the 2015 consumer looking to streamline the information gathering process.

Slimmer portfolio of electronics emerge

In the wake of the adoption of smartphones and tablets, which 57% of US consumers currently own, US households appear to be slimming down their portfolio of electronics. Many electronics that have been commonplace in the home have shown considerable declines in ownership over the past two years, such as DVD players and desktop PCs. While a portion of the decline in DVD player ownership can be linked to the emergence of Blu-ray players, only 37% of consumers report that their household has a Blu-ray player.

The popularity of smartphones and tablets is also impacting ownership of other portable electronics: penetration for laptops, portable media players and portable gaming consoles is in decline. These same trends can be expected to continue moving forward, with phablets continuing to make dedicated devices increasingly unnecessary, and two-in-one laptop/tablets taking over growth from traditional laptop/netbooks.

Billy Hulkower is a Senior Analyst, Technology and Media, at Mintel. His area of expertise includes consumer electronics, digital entertainment, social networking, digital marketing, pay TV services and online video, with a particular emphasis on cellular services, and mobile hardware and software.

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