Market Data

Reach Holiday Shoppers Where They’re Spending the Most Time this Season: On Mobile

Lexi Sydow

How advertisers can find mobile success in Q4 2020 and beyond

2020 has been anything but an ordinary year. While end of year customs and trends might look different than they have in the past, one fact remains: mobile is a prime channel for holiday shopping and purchases. 

Global time spent in apps grew 25% year over year in Q3 2020 as mobile remains the epicenter of our lives. At the height of the pandemic, the average user spent 4 hours 20 minutes per day on mobile. With this in mind, we’ve partnered with our friends at MoPub to uncover some meaningful data-driven trends and insights marketers should consider when headed into the holidays. 

The Case for Mobile:

Mobile ad spend withstood marketing budget cuts in 2020 — being the main engine for continued growth in digital ad spend. We forecast that mobile ad spend alone will surpass $240 billion for the year and top $290 billion in 2021 — contingent on the performance of other sectors of the advertising market. Growth in m-commerce is set to bolster further growth in mobile ad spend, yet OTT platforms represent potential headwinds. 

2021 predictions mobile ad spend app annie

The pandemic’s contribution to mobile growth and app usage can also be viewed by the time spent by users in the United States in shopping apps that have MoPub’s SDK integrated as well, jumping +62% in May and +67% in June, when compared to Jan 2020, as per research from our team at App Annie:

For Shopping apps in the US, we forecast that over 1 billion hours will be spent on Android devices in the US in shopping apps in Q4 2020, a 50% YoY increase over Q4 2019. 

app annie holiday forecast mobile time spent

According to John Bonanno, Revenue Manager at MoPub, "Through our partnership, App Annie shared valuable insights into the time spent in shopping apps with the MoPub SDK. The upward trend in 2020 on Android alone tells us that marketers have a vast array of ad inventory at their fingertips."

eCommerce Is Booming, and It’s Not Alone

This year holiday ecommerce spending is set to jump a tremendous 35.8% (the highest watermark since it jumped 19.5% a decade ago, in 2010) and mobile sales alone are projected to reach $314 billion by the end of 2020. 

We’ve come a long way this past decade: for context, when the very first iPad was released in 2010, there were fewer than 250,000 apps available to download from the iOS app store, compared to the over 1.7 million apps available today. 

The mobile holiday season is flexible, but it usually starts around Thanksgiving day and typically runs through Christmas Day. However, with more recent additions of shopping deals and new “holiday” shopping days like Amazon Prime Day (usually in July, but in October in 2020) and Alibaba’s Singles’ Day (on November 11, 2020), there are now even more peaks to the holiday season’s graphical roller coaster.

Looking back at 2019’s holiday trends, MoPub took a deeper dive into the category drivers behind increased holiday spend. Surprisingly, eCommerce was not the only contributor, though this vertical saw a steady increase until Christmas day. Instead, Big Box Stores (large chains which also have physical store presences and Retail (direct brands, and their owned and operated mobile apps) apps saw more drastic spikes in spend around the Black Friday and Cyber Monday events.

mobile indexed ad spend mopub retail big box store mobile indexed ad spend mopub tech ecommerce

Given the growth in average monthly active user bases we are seeing in App Annie’s data among the top 10 Shopping apps in October 2020 — a 20% increase year over year — it’s reasonable to assume the peaks in mobile ad spending during the holiday season seen on MoPub’s Exchange will likely not only continue this year but reach new heights. In a year where m-commerce has continually broken records, we’d expect advertisers to capitalize on this booming industry and their mobile ad spend to follow a similar trend.

november average MAU shopping apps

According to John, “We can conclude that in recent years, some individuals have moved away from in-person holiday shopping and have gradually begun to do their shopping on mobile. In 2020, this notion is growing stronger, looking at an influx of traffic on mobile due to the pandemic and shelter-in-place mandates. This is a trend that we expect to continue into at least early 2021, as "at home" shopping, fitness, finance, gaming, and streaming apps drive further mobile usage and adoption. As a result, there's a big opportunity here for mobile advertisers."

At App Annie, we expect mobile to act as the epicenter of our “at home” social and working lives throughout 2021 — due largely to the acceleration of mobile app habits forming over the past 10 years that were accelerated by 2 to 3 years during the pandemic. Coupled with the anticipated rollout of vaccines well into Q4 2021 in major markets like the US, it is likely for work-from-home and social-distancing measures to still be a major part of many consumers’ day-to-day lives. 

new normal at home mobile boom

What Can Advertisers Do in 2020 to Capitalize on These Trends?

  • Mobile Market Data: Advertisers should use mobile market data to keep tabs on shifts in consumer behavior on mobile — where consumers are spending their time and what apps are dominating consumer attention. Publishers should pay attention to cross-app usage to identify competitive threats or strategic opportunities for defensive or offensive marketing efforts during this high traffic period.
  • Shopping Apps: According to MoPub, publishers may want to ensure they have their placements enabled for eCommerce, Big Box, and Retail advertisers to enter. Ensuring that your monetization campaigns are ready to capture some of this wave should be a no-brainer for any holiday season, but seeing the upwards trends in available shopping app ad inventory and projected growth in spend, optimizing your highest priority placements to match should also be a holiday checklist.

While 2020 had many surprises in store, mobile growth has been steady and perhaps even a comforting constant. Into the holidays we can expect data-driven mobile strategies to be the linchpin of savvy advertising campaigns.


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App Annie is a mobile market estimate service provider. App Annie is not registered in any investment advisory capacity in any jurisdiction globally, and does not offer any legal, financial, investment or business advice. Nothing contained in this communication, or in any App Annie products, services or other offerings, should be construed as an offer, recommendation, or solicitation to buy or sell any security or investment, or to make any investment decisions. Any reference to past or potential performance is not, and should not, be construed as a recommendation or as a guarantee of any specific outcome. You should always consult your own professional legal, financial, investment and business advisors.

December 16, 2020

Market Data

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