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Black Friday: Why you make better shopping decisions on your laptop than your phone

We make the best online shopping buys when we can see more information on our screen, researchers found.

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Shopping on a laptop or desktop will help you make better purchases than shopping on your phone, researchers found. 

Getty Images / Emilija Manevska
This story is part of Holiday Survival Guide 2019, featuring tips on the best ways to manage the holiday season.

If you're planning to do some online shopping to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, you might want to put down your phone and switch to your laptop or desktop to scroll through products on sites like Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. It turns out we may make better shopping decisions when using a computer instead of a smartphone or other mobile device, according to research published Thursday from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

"The fundamental finding is that consumers make less accurate decisions (in terms of the degree to which their decisions are consistent with their preferences) when they use mobile devices (compared to PCs), not because of the smaller screens of mobile devices, but because of the presentation of less information per page on mobile devices," Lior Fink, head of the university's Mobile Behavior Lab and a member of the department of industrial engineering and management, said in an email. 

Read more: Best Black Friday deals 2019 under $250

The conclusion is pretty straightforward. When you browse the internet on your phone, many websites reduce the amount of information you see so that it's easier to look at on the smaller screen. However, this can lead online shoppers to make purchases that may not be in line with what they actually want, because they see less information about a given product, Fink said. 

More people are turning to their smartphones as shopping devices: On Cyber Monday last year, 47% of all traffic to online stores came from phones, as did 36% of sales, according to an Adobe Analytics report. Cyber Monday sales made on phones hit $2.2 billion dollars, up from $1.4 billion the year before, the report found. Black Friday 2018 was the first time online sales on phones reached more than $2 billion. 

But when it comes to decision-making, it's better for shoppers to be able to see all of the information on a website -- even if it's more difficult to read on a mobile device -- because their purchase decisions will be more accurate, the researchers found. 

The researchers conducted two experiments to determine how shopping on a phone or PC impacts a purchase decision. In one, they asked participants to choose a fictitious hotel room among 11 options, and had them view information about each room on either a mobile device or a PC. All information was available on both devices, but was laid out more clearly on the PC display -- as in, you wouldn't have to click to see additional information, as you would on mobile. 

When the same information was displayed on both screens at the start, participants made equally accurate decisions. However, when mobile displays hid some information from the initial view for an easier reading experience, participants made decisions that were less accurate and less aligned with their preferences, according to the research. 

"This work is unique because it separates mobile device (screen size) from mobile display (information reduction), where the two are typically confounded in real-life use," Fink said in the email. "In so doing, we are able to show that lower decision accuracy in mobile use is due to mobile display rather than mobile device. If exactly the same information is presented on mobile devices and on PCs, there is no decrease in decision accuracy on mobile devices." 

Bottom line? If you want to make the best decision when buying a new TV or smart device, get out your laptop, or look for a website that is less mobile-friendly but gives you all the information you need upfront. 

For more, check out Best Black Friday 2019: The Cheapskate's top deals

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