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Singapore tops global smartphone adoption, but biz not tapping potential

Asian nation emerges as world's largest adopter of smartphones with a penetration rate of 85 percent, but businesses still aren't providing great experience with 88 percent of mobile consumers reporting access problems.

Small in size it may be, Singapore has emerged as the world's largest adopter of smartphones with a penetration rate of 85 percent.  

That's up from 72 percent in 2013, and higher than the adoption rate for personal computers in the country which stands at 60 percent, according to Google's Consumer Barometer research that polled more than 150,000 respondents in 56 countries. The study was conducted by TNS.

Not surprisingly, smartphone adoption is high across the Asia-Pacific region where Korea's 80 percent penetration rate also ranks among the top five nations, which comprises UAE at 78 percent, Saudi Arabia at 77 percent, and Sweden at 75 percent. Several others in the region have adoption rates past 50 percent, and markets that once lagged their peers are showing significant growth. Vietnam, for instance, clocks a penetration rate of 36 percent, more than double the 16 percent in 2013. 

Google also noted that in many Asian nations, smartphone adoption is higher than personal computer. Apart from Singapore, this is also true in China, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. What's more striking is that this trend doesn't hold true for any other country outside Asia. 

Smartphone users in Southeast Asia, in particular, said their mobile is the only connected device they own, including 35 percent in Malaysia and 24 percent in Vietnam. This mobile-only web access is also true for 16 percent of respondents in Singapore, and 14 percent each in South Korea and Hong Kong. In comparison, countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom reports just 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, access the internet only from their mobile devices. 

In addition, almost 8 out of 10 Singapore respondents use at least two connected devices, putting the country at No. 4 in the world. 

Despite the high smartphone adoption in the city-state, however, local businesses apparently aren't tapping this growth and overlooking the need to ensure mobile experience of their service is optimized. 

Julian Persaud, Google's Southeast Asia managing director, said in the report that 88 percent of respondents in the country indicated experiencing problems when accessing websites on their phones.

"Clearly there's a lot more work to be done. It's vital for every business to think mobile­-first," Persaud said. "This is a massive wakeup call to any business in Singapore without a mobile ­optimized site or app. In 2014, this is no longer a viable approach — you're effectively slamming your shop door in the face of your customers."

Asian mobile consumers love shopping 

Retailers, in particular, may want to rethink their online and mobile strategy, especially since the study indicates a passion for shopping among Asian respondents.

Some 69 percent in Singapore said they would conduct research online before making a purchase, with 48 percent doing so on their smartphones. In comparison, 21 percent in the U.K. and 20 percent in Germany would do the same. Some 80 percent in Malaysia said they did research online before making a purchase, while 75 percent in Vietnam said likewise.  

In addition, 35 percent in Singapore said they used their smartphones at some stage in the buying process of the last item they purchased, which is one of the highest worldwide, Google said. Some 33 percent in China said likewise, while 21 percent in the U.S. did the same. 

Some 68 percent in Singapore tapped the internet to assess which TV to buy, while 61 percent did so for big-ticket home appliances such refrigerators or washing machines. And 42 percent used online banking services on their smartphones.

So what do Singaporeans shop for online? Paying for the air tickets, it seems. A whopping 89 percent of respondents in the country said bought a flight online while 83 percent said they booked a hotel online. Some 43 percent did likewise for clothes, 41 percent for cinema tickets, and 40 percent for insurance.