Increasingly well connected

November 2012

Find the best deal fast online while at the supermarket, check connections while on the train or book the next holiday with friends at the pub – for most of us, being online on the move is part of everyday life. Last year alone, 95 million devices for mobile internet use were sold in 8 European countries and Russia, with smartphones the most popular choice (source: GfK Consumer Choices 2011). How many users are actually online while on the move? What does a typical user look like? The differences are not only apparent between individual countries, but the mobile revolution has even advanced to differing degrees throughout Germany.

One in ten Europeans are now very well connected on the mobile and are consequently part of the “super-connected” group, which includes people for whom surfing and communicating using their mobiles is not only quite practical on occasions, but has actually become essential. These are the findings of the 2012 Consumption Trend Sensor for which the GfK Verein investigated mobile internet use in eight European countries and Russia in collaboration with the Technology/Consumer Experiences division. The “semi-connected” group is rather more pragmatic in its approach to the mobile web. This group is open to it and interested, but does not use it as much as the super-connected. In the survey countries, almost one quarter of the population over the age of 14 belonged to this group. The “pre-connected” spend the majority of their online time on laptops and PCs, although they do use mobile phones. The highest proportion across the nine countries are the “non-connected”, with mobile surfing not yet on the radar for 39% of Europeans and Russians.

Netherlands and the United Kingdom: online leaders

While Germany is considered the European leader when it comes to the economy, the country is rather more center field for mobile internet use. Around a third of respondents use their mobile and the internet, but do not use mobile internet. For 36%, the use of mobile internet is still unfamiliar, but not ruled out. At 21% and 11%, the share of semi-connected and super-connected respondents is a little smaller than the European average. Top of the list are the Netherlands and the UK, which are way ahead of other countries. In both countries, the percentage of users who do not surf on their mobiles is relatively low, while in the super- and semi-connected groups, the percentage is above average. The results for Russia are quite remarkable. The difference between rich and poor here is vast and the picture for mobile evolution is equally polarized: overall, 53% of Russians are not connected, so not accessing the web through mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and so on. On the other hand, 16% are connected round the clock. This gives Russia the highest percentage of both super-connected and non-connected in the survey.

Germany: male, single, young…surfing

Younger men who are not in a relationship are most likely to utter the words, “Not without my smartphone”. While the older generation still has many questions as to what an app actually is, teenagers and young adults in Germany have grown up in a mobile world and are now practiced expert users. Around three in four of the super-connected group are aged between 14 and 39. By contrast, older users are far less common, with only 6% of super-connected users over the age of 50. The distribution is very different among the non-connected, where 82% are 50 and older, and only 7% are aged between 14 and 39.

Mobile surfing is therefore clearly a question of age, although gender and personal situation also play a certain part. There are more men than women among mobile internet users and the gender gap widens further in the super-connected category, which is around 60% men and 40% women. This group also includes the highest number of single people, with almost half currently living alone, compared with only a third among non-connected respondents. Conversely, the lion’s share of the not connected and pre-connected groups are married. The split between singles and marrieds is approximately equal in the semi-connected group (41% each).

Super-connected: searching for fast information

Today, it is almost unthinkable for a company not to use Twitter and Facebook. From global corporations to small companies, the online world is used as a method to communicate with customers. However, some topics are more favored among the mobile generation than others. Those who are surfing the web wherever they happen to be tend to be most interested in technical content. Computers and electronics are most popular with super-connected users, with two out of three users expressing particular interest in this field. At 50%, topics relating to technology are also popular with the semi-connected respondents. Both groups also often look at pages relating to cinema, movies and travel. Evidently mobile information is particularly advantageous for these ‘fast-moving’ topics. Topics which are of least interest to adept users of mobile communications include environmental issues and nature protection, art and culture and religion – clearly, these all still belong in the analog world.

Super-connected and non-connected users might be poles apart, yet they have one interest in common. Even those who are not surfing on their mobile are interested in travel topics (44%), although non-connected users are, of course, most likely to plan their holiday at home on their PC or at the travel agents. While they may not be indulging in dreams of a vacation on the move, they are more interested in the environmental ramifications (32%), art and culture (22%) and religion (23%) than heavy users. This group seems to have very little interest in electronics, computers and other technology-related issues.

Super-users in Germany: minor concern for security, major desire to shop

When it comes to data security, it is the pre-connected users who are most skeptical about mobile communications and internet use. Two out of three of these consumers state that they are extremely concerned about data security if information is no longer stored on their own PC or laptop but floating around on the web. Pre-connected Germans have an above-average level of concern compared with the rest of Europe, while 57% and 51% respectively are worried about data, semi-and super-connected are less concerned. This means that data security in mobile communications is an issue for more than half of adept users. Compared with the European average, where two thirds say the same, super-connected Germans are considerably more relaxed about data protection.

Perhaps this is because they are more strongly focused on the advantages of “web to go”. Online shopping, in particular, has opened up a variety of new possibilities for a great many consumers for whom shopping on the web is a matter of course. The majority of the super-connected group (79%) can no longer imagine life without mobile online shopping or participating in auctions (Europe: 58%), while around one third of German semi-connecteds and 10% of pre-connecteds had a similar outlook. Although there are evidently alternatives to mobile shopping open to these user types, in a comparison, even these groups are markedly above the European average.

Why not just switch off?

It is around two years since journalist Christoph Koch – a self-admitted online junkie – pulled the plug. In his book: “I’m off to online: a self experiment”, he describes his experiences with periods of several weeks of digital fasting. What the “neon” editor and author went through is something not many Germans can imagine.  Only 30% of super-connected Germans would even contemplate deliberately switching off the mobile phone and not being reachable, while in the rest of Europe, half the super-connected group regularly switch off their cellphones quite deliberately. It appears that in Germany, the need to be contactable at all times, is that much greater, although only in the super-connected, since 45% of the semi-connected do switch off their mobile phones from time to time, and in the pre-connected group, the figure is as high as half.

Where is the journey down the digital motorway taking us? While critics warn of the addictive hazards of being permanently online, defenders point out the countless possibilities which “web to go” has to offer. In his offline experiment, Christoph Koch appears to have found the answer and pleads for a more conscious approach to the new technology. As he himself says in an interview with Random House publishers, he didn’t set out to write an “anti-internet book”, but: “I believe that now and again, we should ask ourselves how we should use the internet.” Of course, the video of the interview can be downloaded from the web……while on the move or relaxing at home.


Data source: GfK Verein (European Consumer Study 2011 / 2012 – Trendsensor Konsum and GfK conference 2012).

If you have any queries concerning this article, please contact Robert Wucher (robert.wucher@gfk.com) or Birgit Mueller (birgit.mueller@gfk.com).

For any further queries regarding GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar from GfK Verein: claudia.gaspar@gfk-verein.org.

November 2012