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The next stage: Six ways the digital consumer is changing

Two-thirds of video watching and 60% of Internet browsing on smart phones is done at home, alone

The Internet, not yet 20 years on from its emergence into the consumer mainstream, is evolving as fast as ever.

Companies that are becoming household names—Twitter, Groupon, and Zynga, for example—barely existed five years ago, and some of the titans of the web—Facebook and YouTube in particular—have yet to celebrate their 10th birthdays.

"Missing these digital consumer shifts can mean missing the next billion-dollar opportunity."

The way consumers use the Internet is at the center of this change. Over the years, access has moved from dial-up, to fixed broadband, and now towards wireless 3G/4G broadband. Devices have evolved too, from desktop computers to laptops to smart phones to tablets. How consumers spend their time with these devices has also shifted: from “surfing” through portals to searching for content; from bargain hunting on auction sites to using mobile devices for in-store price research; and from emailing to messaging through social networks.

Our underlying belief is that consumer behavior is a leading indicator of future value chain and business model shifts. For both incumbents and attackers, understanding changing consumer behavior at a detailed, segmented level is an important capability.We believe the future is already here; it's just unevenly distributed. Missing these shifts can mean missing the next billion-dollar opportunity.

Research overview

Starting in 2008, McKinsey & Company began its iConsumer research program in the US to understand these consumer changes across platforms and across time. Since then, we have expanded iConsumer to cover 15 other countries across Europe and Asia. All told, we have surveyed more than 200,000 consumers on a wide range of topics—including online retail, video, gaming, browsing, mobile communications, and social networking.

In the most recent US iConsumer research, conducted in November 2011, we surveyed a balanced sample of more than 18,000 Americans, aged 13-64, who use the Internet. We have identified six key trends that players across the value chain—including device manufacturers and suppliers; content owners and distributors; retailers and marketers—need to understand to adapt to the next stage in the evolution of the consumer Internet.

  1. Mobile devices are ushering in an era of true personal computing.
  2. Social networking is becoming a key gateway to content and commerce.
  3. Communication is migrating from voice to visual.
  4. “Digital window shopping” is creating new battlegrounds for retailers.
  5. Video will be everywhere—on multiple screens, from multiple sources.
  6. Gamers and games are everywhere and anywhere.

To read more on these trends, download "Six ways the digital consumer is changing" (PDF–325 KB).