What Does Time Spent Mean For A Mobile App? Not What You Might Think

A very interesting mini-report from Nielsen came out on Wednesday (Aug. 8), one that ranked the top mobile shopping apps used in June. But when it also listed those with the highest time spent, it glaringly failed to say why. And that "why" makes all of the difference.

In that category, Shopkick blew everyone away with an average of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 11 seconds. So why did Shopkick blow everyone else away, average time spent wise? It has to do with the nature of that app, not that its users were so enraptured by the content.

The usual retail suspects (eBay, Amazon, Groupon and Shopkick) topped the list (in that order), with Walgreens and Target showing up in the very respectable six and seven slots. The interesting part looks at the average time spent.

After Shopkick's more than three-hour performance, the second place for time spent went to eBay, which racked up two-thirds less time with 1 hour, 4 minutes and 2 seconds. Time spent then plunged with a third-place finish for the Out-of-Milk Shopping List for Android at 31 minutes, 30 seconds; fourth place for Groupon at 21 minutes, 16 seconds; and fifth for Amazon at 18 minutes, 39 seconds. Everyone else was in the single digits of minutes neighborhood.

So why did Shopkick and eBay blow away everyone else, average time spent wise? Context. The second-place winner, eBay, is still primarily an auction app, so its users are watching bids and being prepared to top any bids when needed. Hence, they need to keep the app open. But at least that means the users are actively engaged with—or at least passively watching—that app.

The Shopkick situation is even more divorced from a captivated audience. The app needs to be launched right before entering a store to get points, and it then needs to stay launched to collect points at various points inside the store. The user is not interacting with—or even looking at—the app, because it's the ultimate background application. The app is interacting with Shopkick sensors and the store's Wi-Fi much more than with shoppers. If the customer happens to be visiting Macy's, those interactions might even be with the store's music speakers, but they're still not happening a lot with the shoppers.

It's just like the early days of Web analytics: IT chiefs were thrilled with the new data to look at, but it took a while to figure out what that data really meant. Did everyone really like the yellow shirt or did they simply always click on whatever was placed in the upper-right-hand corner?