Nearly a quarter-century since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, the growth in Internet usage isn't even close to slowing down. In fact, in just the last three years, the amount of time Americans spend online has doubled, according to a new report from comScore and Jumptap.
The major cause for this recent boom, the report found, was the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, with mobile devices accounting for about half of adults’ online time overall. Among some groups, that number is even higher—topping at 61 percent among women 25 to 49. This shift to mobile is profoundly changing the way business owners work and interact with customers, vendors and others.
The Mobile Shift
Ash Rust, co-founder of cloud-based business phone system startup SendHub, says that in just six months, the Menlo Park, California-based company has seen a nearly 50 percent drop in use of its Web platform, while mobile usage has doubled.
This, among other things, has impelled Rust to rush new tablet applications into development. More of the top-level executives SendHub sells to are using tablets as their primary devices. “If you’re not on board with that, you’re less likely to have a sale go in your favor,” he says.
He has also put considerable emphasis on mobile commerce. For instance, purchases via SendHub's Android app have grown by 50 percent in the most recent month. “It’s way outpacing our generalized revenue growth,” Rust says.
Other companies have, not surprisingly, noticed the tidal wave and are trying to catch a ride. Appboy, an analytics and marketing company, recently added location data to the information it provides to its business customers. The new information will help enable development of apps that target people by location so, for example, media companies can deliver relevant ads to mobile users.
The New Working Norm
Customers aren’t the only ones spending more time online. Business owners are also doing far more of their work online than in the past. Like many business owners today, Rust increasingly runs SendHub outside of normal work hours and work environments. When he’s having dinner with friends, he’ll steal a few minutes to check in via his smartphone. He’ll scan emails and see at a glance if anything has developed that needs his attention. “I’m never way out of sync with what’s going on,” he says.
Rust hops online to start his workday in the morning before leaving for the office. By the time he gets there at 9 a.m., he has cleared his email inbox. After heading for home around 7 p.m., he relaxes for a while, then checks in again before bed. “I work the same number of hours,” Rust says, “but I’m able to do about six of those hours from home.”
SendHub extends similar flexibility to employees. “We’re able to use it as a retention policy allowing people to work from home as they see fit,” he says. “All the tools are available to connect to the office, and they’re completely free.”
Massive Growth Signals More Buyers
Even more amazingly, the recent surge in Internet use is expected to continue. Earlier this year, Cisco Systems estimated that global Internet traffic has increased by four times in five years, and will triple again in the next five years. From 2012 to 2017, Cisco foresees total Internet traffic increasing at an annual compound growth rate of 23 percent.
Subsets of that traffic show even more energetic expansion. For instance, 26 percent of Internet traffic originated with non-PC devices in 2012, but by 2017 tablets, TVs, phone and other devices will account for nearly half, according to Cisco. Over that span, traffic originating from mobile phones will boast compound annual growth rates of 79 percent—per year.
While this sort of growth occurred in the Internet’s early days, today’s growth rates involve a much larger base. For instance, according to Internet World Stats, in October 2003 there were 682 million Internet users, accounting for nearly 11 percent of the world population. By March 2013, 2.7 billion, nearly 39 percent, were online.
The systemwide stats are translating into massive impacts on individual businesses. Skyrocketing online news provider BuzzFeed, for example, gets half its traffic from mobile users. For fast-growing companies like these, mobile users aren't the sauce, they're the entree.
With current growth forecasts affecting such huge numbers of people, mobile usage has to be a major focus of any business. In particular, Rust says, it’s critical to make sure people can buy online easily and quickly. “That’s the big trend that small and medium business owners will start to see over the next two years,” he says. “Getting out in front of that is going to be a big plus.”
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