What your web browser says about how you shop online

In the tech community, everyone has pet stereotypes about different browser users. “Chrome users are nerds.” “IE users are old.” There’s no shortage of theories. What’s lacking is hard data about what these different browser users actually do online: how much they spend, how much more time they spend on site, how many more pages they view.

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to study and (anonymously) report on large amounts of data from a variety of ecommerce sites that my company, Strangeloop Networks, accelerates. In the past few months, I’ve conducted some in-house research to answer these questions.

Finding #1: People using newer browser versions spend more than people using older versions.

You might be saying “Of course, that’s obvious” to this one, but this is the first time I’ve heard this theory substantiated. The difference can be pretty staggering. On one site, I found the order value per visitor was 29% higher for IE8 users than it was for IE7 users. (If you’re using Google Analytics or a similar program to track your customer data, you can easily identify these numbers for your own site.)

Finding #2: IE users view more pages, spend more time on site, and have a lower bounce rate than Firefox and Chrome users.

Earlier this year, I gathered transaction data spanning hundreds of millions of unique visits for five ecommerce sites that Strangeloop is currently accelerating. I extracted data about page views, time on site, and bounce rate, and then sorted that data into the following browser/OS groups: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, iPad, iPhone, and Android (phone).

What I learned:

  • IE users viewed about 20% more pages per visit than Firefox and Chrome users.
  • IE users spent between 30-45 seconds longer on the site than other users.
  • IE users had a bounce rate that was 5 or 6 percentage points lower.

These kinds of numbers easily lead to more theorizing. Are IE fans less tech savvy and therefore slower web users than the rest of us? Are they more likely to be using older systems with less processing power? But what about that lower bounce rate? Does it signify that IE users are better searchers and more likely to arrive at the right destination, or are they simply more easily satisfied than other users? These are questions that numbers can’t answer.

Finding #3: iPhone users view fewer pages, spend less time on site, and have a higher average bounce rate than users of other mobile browsers.

When we extended our study to mobile browsers — focusing on iOS and Android — we found that iPhone users sit at the opposite end of the spectrum from Internet Explorer users. In the same study I described above, we found that iPhone users used ecommerce sites very differently than Android users:

  • iPhone users viewed 31% fewer pages than Android users.
  • iPhone users spent 28% less time on site than Android users.
  • iPhone users had a bounce rate that was 3-4% higher than Android users.

Possible theories? Apple fans might argue that the shorter time spent on site could be due to the (debatable) fact that iPhones are better-powered than other devices, but that doesn’t account for the differences in page views and bounce rate. Do these validate the stereotypes about iPhone users: that they’re impatient and will bounce from a site if they can’t find what they want right away? Or that they’re savvier than Android and can complete transactions faster?

Conclusions

If you’re a site owner, this kind of data should be of interest to you. But it’s not enough to learn that, for example, your Chrome-using customers spend 10% more than your Firefox users. Your next step is to understand why. Sure, it could boil down to psychographic behavior. Or it could be because your site looks and feels different, depending on which browser you use to visit it. A site that delivers a speedy user experience for Chrome could be significantly slower for Firefox — and countless studies have found that page speed is one of the single biggest factors affecting conversions and revenue. Getting browser metrics is the first step toward gaining a better understanding your users and your site.

Original image via Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock

Joshua BixbyJoshua Bixby is president of Strangeloop Networks, a company that provides website acceleration solutions to companies like Visa, Petco, Travelocity and OReilly Media. Joshua also maintains the blog Web Performance Today, which explores issues and ideas about site speed, user behavior, and website optimization.

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