[2021 UPDATE] How the internet changed buyer behaviour

Posted by Sara Landry

Buyers are becoming more sophisticated, and understanding consumer behaviour is the key to a successful marketing and sales strategy. Here’s some key insights into internet, mobile and social media usage in 2021.

The rise of the internet has turned the traditional path to purchase on its head, as buyers are becoming increasingly well-informed. The modern consumer sees straight through traditional push-marketing tactics, and has much higher expectations when it comes to your brand’s value proposition. This coupled with the fact that we are online more this year than ever due to the pandemic means that your online presence is vital to your companies success. 

Global Internet Usage

According to Live Internet Stats, Google receives over 92 000 searches per second on any given day and research from Oberlo shows the fun fact that around 7.2 percent of this traffic comes from people Googling the term “Google”.

Here’s a look at some of the stats from the 2021 We Are Social state of digital global report :

global digital growth

device ownership

digital around the world

sources of new brand discovery

What sets the modern buyer apart from other consumers throughout history, is the amount of research that they can (and do) perform before making a purchase. The internet has provided the means to perform thorough product research, in the form of content such as customer testimonials, online product demonstrations, and reviews. Here are some interesting insights We Are Social believe are unique to 2021:

  • The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted research into internet use around the world, so many countries have been unable to provide updates to internet user numbers in the past 12 months.
  • Despite significant changes in digital behaviours due to COVID-19, people say that they’re spending roughly the same amount of time each day on social media today as they did this time last year.

How the internet has influenced buying behaviour across the generations:

Each generation has its own level of adoption in using the internet. Generation Y are digital natives, and grew up with the internet and social media. As a result, they’re more likely to turn to their peers for advice (using forums like Quora) when it comes to making a purchase decision. But 2021 will see more Generation Z coming into the buying space. 

HubSpot recently published a post that featured key insights into the Generation Z online behaviour:

  • The generation has an estimated purchasing power of 44 billion annually. (LinkedIn)
  • 48% of Gen Z identifies as racially or ethnically diverse. (Pew Research Center)
  • As of 2020, Gen Z makes up more than 40% of U.S. consumers. (Fast Company)
  • 66% of Gen Z reports using more than one internet-connected device at a time. (Institute of Business Management)
  • In the U.K., Gen Z spends an average of 10.6 hours online each day. (Adobe)
  • Roughly 75% of Gen Z most frequently uses a smartphone over computers and other devices. (Institute of Business Management)
  • Most Gen Zers (73%) use their internet-connected devices to communicate with friends or family. Meanwhile, 59% and 58% also use them for entertainment and gaming respectively. (Institute of Business Management)

WeAreSocial says, “Gen Z are expecting more intimate communication with brands and people they shop with on social." 

  • One in four Gen Z women says they learn about new products from social media influencers. (Morning Consult)
88% of Gen Z prefers omnichannel branded experiences, while 54% say social media influences them most. (CMO Council)

You might also like our article, The story of a Gen-Xer in a sea of Millennials, by our strategic director, Alison Leishman.

Here’s a look at the state of internet usage in South Africa, in 2021

You’ll notice that South African internet usage (especially in the mobile sector) is growing rapidly year on year. And looking at the data holistically, we can see that usage in South Africa comes in relatively close in relation to international internet usage.

In fact, the report shows that South Africans spend on average 3h32m using social media each day, the sixth highest in the world.

daily time spent using social media

mobile share of daily internet time

Staying in touch with friends and family has become the second most reason for using the internet in 2021. The report shows that researching products and brands is 46.4% and the sixth top reason for using the internet.

reasons for using the internet

mobile internet use

internet connection speeds


How social media has influenced buying behaviour:

Dark social has rapidly become a traffic source for many businesses and as the graph above shows,WhatsApp is the most used social media platform in South Africa. In the below graph, Facebook is the most-used social platform around the world. This information can be applied to your business model, focusing your paid advertising to Facebook.

social media platforms

world's most used social platforms

social media platforms

These changes in buyer behaviour have created the necessity for brands to give the traditional marketing model a major overhaul in order to remain relevant in today’s marketplace.

Inbound marketing is a response to the need for marketing and sales to connect with a new generation of sophisticated buyers. The inbound methodology focuses on putting the customer at the centre of your flywheel and helps brands to adapt to a new marketplace (where consumers are in control of their buyer’s journey), successfully building lasting relationships with their ideal customers.

If you’d like to find out more about inbound marketing, and how it will help your business overcome the challenges of the digital marketing landscape, you can read MD, Darren Leishman’s article, How to do better inbound marketing in a tough economy.

You can access the full Digital in 2021 Global Overview Report online if you’d like to see how South Africa compares to other countries from around the globe.

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