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High-quality, high-touch mobile consumables become essential as COVID-19 accelerates mobile-first transition

Published: 9 August 2021

Deloitte today releases the latest edition of its China Mobile Consumer Survey, which explores supply and demand dynamics between Chinese consumers, their mobile digital devices and their application. The Survey identified 11 key viewpoints covering remote working and other behavior during and after China's COVID-19 lockdown, data privacy and information tracking, ownership and use of mobile devices, smartphone user behavior and application preferences, 5G connectivity, and media consumption. Deloitte surveyed 2,000 Chinese consumers from different demographics aged 18 to 50, obtaining diverse, detailed data to support more representative suggestions as a reference for the industry.                            

"In early 2020, COVID-19 took the world by surprise. With the suspension of business activities, implementation of home isolation and flexible working, our lives have changed dramatically, and mobile consumption is no exception. During this difficult period, mobile devices have become a vital portal for people to connect, be entertained, explore, access information, and unleash creativity," says Deloitte China Vice Chairman and Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) Industry Leader Taylor Lam.

The Survey reveals that the pandemic highlighted the importance of smartphones in our lives. People are using smartphones to reduce feelings of isolation from family and friends, and 68% of respondents believe they spent too much time on their smartphones during lockdown. The percentage of respondents aged 18 to 24 who said they overuse their smartphones surged 16 percentage points from the previous year's survey to 82%, but smartphone overuse is also a growing issue among those aged 35 to 44, where it rose to 64%, and 45- to 50-year olds, where it hit 52%.

During the pandemic, smartphones have been gaining ground as the most popular devices for running a majority of applications. A wide variety of applications and mobile living scenarios made smartphones not just a means of communication, but also an essential device for entertainment, finance, and shopping. They are also becoming a core tool for people to operate and interact with other smart devices and monitor their health and lives.

According to the Survey, more than 80% of people often use mobile phones for online or in-store shopping, and about three quarters use them to check their bank balances or transfer funds. Some 60% of respondents use smartphones to measure their fitness levels, and 40% use them to manage their health and diets. Playing music on speakers (43%), controlling the television (41%), in-car entertainment systems (26%), domestic appliances (28%), home security systems (27%), lighting (18%), and adjusting the temperature (10%) are the most popular functions of mobile phones as entertainment control centers. 

"High-quality, functional electronic devices have great potential, which means quality and experience are becoming important dimensions in evaluating electronic product consumption. Businesses need to prioritize the development, upgrading, and launch of high-quality, high-touch functions to meet consumer needs," adds Lam.

"Many companies view mobile devices as a tool for marketing and driving customer sentiment, but consumer behavior during the pandemic meant mobile devices quickly became important revenue drivers. The pandemic has accelerated the mobile-first transition – as consumers become used to a high quality, high touch experience on mobile devices, their stickiness will become extremely high, bringing tremendous opportunities for businesses."

The Survey's other key findings include:

  • The pandemic had the greatest impact on online entertainment, and this continued after lockdown was lifted. With their activities limited by stay-at-home restrictions, most people (55%) streamed movies or TV series, or watched movies or TV programs via software (53%), more frequently. Nearly half of respondents are more interested in playing games or reading the news. Most people staying at home spend the time they would normally spend outside on entertainment and have developed new habits. When asked what activities they will continue to engage in after lockdown is lifted, most people still chose entertainment: 37% and 35% have developed a liking for watching videos and movies or TV series; 29% and 25% will continue to use their mobile devices to read the news and play games.
  • During the pandemic in 2020, one-third of people in China worked from home. Although commuting time was saved, work efficiency dropped, with 44% of respondents believing it is more difficult to work from home. The most common issue was being distracted by family (42%). 
  • Mobile consumers realize their data is being shared, but are less concerned than before, and support the government using data for pandemic control. People have become more aware of the types of data being shared, with 60% of mobile consumers acknowledging their location data will be shared with app companies, and nearly half having shared their mobile numbers, but the convenience of online services tends to outstrip concerns about data leakage. Nearly 89% of the respondents "always", "almost always" or "sometimes" accept terms and conditions right away without reading them. When asked about the government's use of data generated by smartphones or other devices for contact tracing, about 70% of respondents support this. Respondents aged 25 to 34 and women are notably more understanding here.
  • Thermal imaging cameras have more support than other pandemic control technologies used by the government. Thermal imaging cameras are used to monitor temperatures. This involves technology, but will not compromise personal privacy or physical health. It therefore received more support, at more than 80%, than other measures like data inspection received. However, the level of support decreases in older age groups, where consumers tend to be more conservative. 
  • Most people buy digital products for entertainment. Emerging devices are gaining popularity. While staying at home, 65% of mobile consumers bought new devices, predominantly entertainment and social devices such as smartphones, laptop computers, smartwatches, tablets, games consoles, and smart speakers. Smartphones and laptop computers have become by far the most used electronic products, accounting for 92% and 75% of users' time. Smart wearables including smart watches and fitness bands have become popular, taking up 73% and 66% of respondents' time. Nevertheless, despite growing ownership of new devices such as smart speakers, their rate of use is declining. This indicates mobile consumers' preference is shifting from necessities to leisure products, and their buying behavior is driven by novelty.
  • 5G has gained recognition. Users recognize 5G as an unstoppable trend. Nearly 90% of respondents believe they will have better mobile connectivity if they migrate to 5G. However, people are becoming less curious and excited about 5G. The percentage of respondents "willing to use 5G once viable" is dropping every year, with a 12 percentage point decrease in 2020 from 2018's level. Furthermore, people's understanding of 5G technology is yet to improve. 

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