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Fox professor makes link between mobile consumerism and congestion on trains

March 21, 2016 //

Dr. Luo
It’s on a crowded subway train that the next big thing in mobile analytics has emerged. New research by a professor from the Fox School of Business shows an upswing in mobile purchases as consumers turn to their smartphones to disengage from the hassle of a packed train.

For the study’s coauthor, Dr. Xueming Luo, Charles Gilliland Chair Professor of Marketing, Strategic Management, and Information Systems at Fox, the results are both impactful and surprising.

“Crowded environments are oftentimes noisy and annoying,” said Luo. “We expected them to turn customers off to such purchases. That wasn’t the case.”

Luo’s study, which has been cited by the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail among other media outlets, was coauthored by Emory University’s Dr. Michelle Andrews, a Fox PhD alumna; Sichuan University’s Dr. Zheng Fang; and New York University’s Dr. Anindya Ghose.

The study partnered with a cell phone service provider that over several days sent randomly selected subway riders in a large Asian city mobile ads for digital services such as video-streaming. The study found that smartphone users trapped in densely packed trains were about two times more likely to opt to buy the promoted mobile services than those in non-crowded trains.

Though crowding is subjective, the study focused on participants with at least five or more people positioned within 10 square feet. In order to determine that crowding influenced purchasing behavior, the study examined travelers throughout the day – from rush hour business people to lull-hour, non-business casual travelers.

“It’s about being around strangers and having a fear of social awkwardness,” said Luo, and the Founder and Director of Temple University’s Global Center for Big Data in Mobile Analytics. “To avoid eye contact we reach for our phones. This happens in elevators, too. Your smartphone saves you from awkward social moments.”

Using smartphones as a coping strategy, consumers block out external social interactions and allowed marketers and advertisers to have their full attention, Luo said. And in order to maintain that attention, he said, marketers rely on creativity in cultivating consumer staying power in a market consumed by its ability to flick, click, and dismiss anything that bores them.

Understanding consumer attention spans is a part of Luo’s larger research in mobile analytics. The most effective way to engage consumers, he said, is to offer personalized incentives – from discounts to ads that appeal to a consumer’s proximity to a business. Sending out targeted geographic and temporal advertisements is well-received in instances in which consumers are annoyed by noise or crowding on their commutes.

“Cutting–edge marketing is all about delivering the right message at the right place and right moment to make an impact,” Luo said. “Smartphone technology can be leveraged to attain that, especially in a crowded subway train.”

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