The consumer mobile landscape in the Nordics

The consumer mobile landscape in the Nordics - featured

The Nordic countries have a rich history with mobile. The Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT) was the world’s first automatic mobile phone system, and launched as early as 1981, leading to rapid demand for mobile phones. It’s no surprise then that two of the companies that brought mobile phone use to the masses, Nokia and Ericsson, are from Finland and Sweden respectively. 

Fast forward to today, and not only do the majority of consumers in the Nordics own mobile phones, but the region is home to an impressive number of companies that have shaped how we use them.

Some of the world’s largest gaming companies, King from Sweden, Supercell from Finland, and Rovio from Finland, developed mobile’s most iconic games: Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, and Angry Birds. Streaming companies Spotify, Soundcloud and Aspiro, the company behind the product acquired by Jay Z, and now known as Tidal, were founded in Sweden and Norway. Klarna and iZettle, both Swedish, have changed the payments landscape. 

However, through a global pandemic, a booming app market, and some of the biggest changes to privacy in the history of the mobile medium – it’s been a period of change for mobile in the Nordics.

To better understand the impact of these changes, we’ve conducted extensive user research into the who, how, when and why of mobile usage in the Nordics. We drill into the latest trends and user habits on mobile, and share advice on how marketers can succeed in this dynamic region. 

The Nordics team at AppsFlyer was set up to support the incredible growth of the app market that we’ve seen in the last few years.

We look forward to continuing to support mobile marketers across the Nordics with technology, data and insights so they can succeed in this exciting market. 

Daniel Juowicz, RVP EMEA & Strategic Projects, AppsFlyer

Key findings

  • Mobile is fast becoming the preferred way for consumers to interact with brands
  • The app user experience is still a pain point, especially amongst the older demographic
  • Users remain hesitant to trust brands with their data, and some would rather pay a fee than give access
  • Among mobile gamers, women outnumber men, but men are more likely to spend
  • The pandemic led to a rise in overall app installs, but had surprisingly little effect on what people were using their phones for


The survey was conducted by the YouGov analysis institute on behalf of AppsFlyer. A total of 4039 CAWI interviews took place of adults aged 18+ in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway during the period of 21-24 May 2021. There were at least 1,000 respondents from each country. 

Chapter 1

The impact of the pandemic on mobile phone usage in the Nordics

Overall app installs rise in March 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic effect on the mobile industry across the globe, driving up screen time as people turned to their phones more often and for longer. Analyzing more than 105 million installs over 4,500 apps across the Nordics in 2020, we found that there was a significant increase in overall app installs at the start of the pandemic, March 2020, compared to the previous month. Denmark and Norway led the way with an uplift of 28% and 27% respectively, followed by Finland which saw an increase in app installs of 22%. Interestingly, Sweden, which had next to no restrictions, saw a much smaller increase of only 10%. 

User behavior remains largely consistent with pre-pandemic times

However, when we look at how people were using their mobiles in the Nordics, it’s surprising to learn that the impact of the pandemic was quite minimal. Both pre-pandemic and during, apps for messaging, email, social media, and banking remain by far the most-used on users’ devices

While Sweden has largely avoided a formal lockdown, the other Nordic countries quickly implemented social restrictions and lockdowns at the start of the pandemic. In addition, given the widely-understood health risks of in-person contact, many people limited face-to-face interactions, even if they were permitted. 

Therefore, while still a small number, it was no surprise to see a 50% increase in the number of people across the Nordics who listed food delivery apps among their most popular apps, compared to pre-pandemic times. 
In response, food delivery apps adapted especially quickly to ensure they were still adequately meeting the needs of consumers and restaurant partners. Finnish company Wolt, for example, used attribution data and insights to help them adapt to no-contact delivery in just 2 weeks, and were able to launch a much-needed grocery delivery service in 15 of their markets in a matter of days.

Mobile becoming the preferred way to interact with brands

Although consumers in the Nordics are most likely to use their phones for communicating and banking, mobile is increasingly playing an important role in how people interact with brands, regardless of industry. 

The pandemic has led to a 29% increase in the number of people preferring to engage with brands on mobile, representing a significant change in user behaviour. 

Unsurprisingly given health concerns and restrictions,  face-to-face interaction has dropped from being one of the preferred options for interacting with brands to now being one of the least-popular throughout the Nordics. 

Digital options are now a much more popular alternative. The notable outlier here is Denmark, where despite everything, consumers still prefer to engage with brands face-to-face.

Mobile browser still favored over apps

It’s worth noting that in a straight choice between engaging with a brand via an app or in a mobile browser, the majority of consumers still prefer mobile web. Denmark is the only country where mobile app leads. 

This may be driven by poor app experience, which we dig into below, or simply that users across age groups are more familiar with browser-based interactions, whether on a computer or mobile. 

Regardless, it opens up the opportunity for marketers to adopt a web-to-app strategy to support the overall experience and user acquisition. 

Chapter 2

The mobile user experience

Brands are missing an opportunity when it comes to user experience

Fewer than one in three consumers in the Nordics feel that they get a good experience from the apps of their chosen brands. 

Adults in Norway were least likely to rate the app experience as good, compared to other countries surveyed. 

This means there’s a huge section of the mobile user base for which the user experience (UX) could be improved.

This is a massive opportunity for brands to drastically improve their app’s UX, and drive engagement and a more positive relationship with their customers. 

When done right, the app user experience is far better than mobile web because it is native. This leads to higher conversion rates and stronger brand loyalty – even seeing an app icon on your phone’s homepage can significantly increase familiarity and trust with a brand.

Banking, email and messaging come out on top 

Across the Nordics, messaging, email and finance apps were most likely to be rated as good by consumers. 

Food delivery, health and fitness and smart home apps were among those rated as having the most room for improvement. 

As we saw earlier, even though these app categories appear to be well-suited to success during the pandemic, they remain among the least-used in the Nordics. It may well be that poor UX is playing a significant part in that.

Older consumers less likely to have a positive app experience 

Across age groups, there were some significant differences, especially when comparing younger demographics to older ones. 

Generally, the older the consumer, the less likely they are to rate the app experience as good. 

Banking, email, and messaging apps were the only categories where more than 60% of over 60s in the Nordics felt they received a positive UX. 

Chapter 3

Vertical deep-dive: gaming and retail

Mobile gaming is more popular among women than men

In the Nordics, more women play mobile games at least once a day than men – 29% to 23% respectively. This disparity is apparent right across the Nordics with the exception of Finland, where there’s only a minor difference between the two.

In Sweden and Denmark, this discrepancy is at its most extreme. 37% of women play games on their phones at least once a day in Sweden compared to 23% of men. In Denmark, the split is 32%-25%, again in favour of women.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most frequent gamers across the whole of the Nordics are those aged 40-49, with over a third playing at least once a day and a quarter playing multiple times a day. In Denmark, the percentage of consumers aged 40-49 who play at least once a day rises as high as 43%.

Men are significantly more likely to spend money in games than women

Although women make up the majority of mobile gamers, men in the Nordics are far more likely than women to spend money on gaming in-app purchases (IAPs) such as extra lives or level upgrades.

One in four men across the Nordics are willing to spend more than 100 SEK, or equivalent currency, in a mobile game, compared to less than one in ten women gamers. Overall though, a willingness to spend on in-app content remains low across the Nordics, with 83% of consumers unwilling to spend more than 100 SEK or equivalent on mobile games.

While younger gamers don’t always have the disposable income of older generations, they are nonetheless the most comfortable spending money in games. Nearly a third of those aged 18-29 willing to spend more than 100 SEK – and one in five willing to spend more than 200 SEK.

The notable outsider here is Finland, where the biggest spenders are those over 50. 

Retailers have work to do to capture a mobile audience

While mobile is becoming the preferred channel for interacting with brands, when it comes to actually purchasing retail products, it lags way behind other options. 

Over half of consumers in the Nordics still prefer to buy from physical stores – compared to just 13% who prefer to do their shopping on mobile. 

Desktop browser sits in the middle, but is still seen as a much more preferable option than mobile, underlining how retailers are missing an opportunity to capture their audience on mobile.

Women and younger consumers favor mobile

Drilling deeper, there are a couple of underlying trends of interest. Firstly, the older the consumer, the more likely they are to want to buy from a physical store. This runs in parallel with older gamers’ reduced proclivity to spend in mobile games, and speaks to a lower amount of familiarity with mobile compared to younger demographics.

Second, women are significantly more likely to prefer shopping on a mobile app compared to men – a 36% increase between the genders, rising to 55% in Sweden. 

Chapter 4

Attitudes towards privacy in the Nordics in the age of iOS 14 and beyond

Privacy changes are welcomed across the Nordics – although awareness is not widespread

The response in the Nordics to the changes shows that Apple was correct in identifying a demand for enhanced privacy controls. Only 5% of all consumers in the Nordics viewed the changes negatively.

However, when surveyed more than a month after Apple rolled out iOS 14.5, awareness of the change was still lacking – and declines concurrent to the age of the consumer. 

While less than 30% of those aged 18-39 were unfamiliar with the changes, this number rises to 44% among over 60s.

Transparency less of a factor in building trust

One way for brands to secure consent from consumers to access and use their data is by showing a clear value proposition for the users: essentially, what’s in it for them if they give access.

However, in the Nordics, transparency about what data is being collected and why wouldn’t sway more than three-quarters of users to opt-in. 

In addition, only 17% think that it’s acceptable for apps to use personal data to improve their overall app experience through relevant content. Although 27% of 18-29 year olds think this is an acceptable practice, the number declines sharply through the age categories, dropped to 9% for those over 60.

This means that the older categories are both less aware of the changes, and less likely to approve of the way brands intend to use their data. Clearly, there is a big opportunity to improve messaging around the privacy changes towards older generations of consumers.

Huge opportunity for gaming apps to improve the trust

Gaming apps have one of the lowest levels of user trust out of any category in the Nordics. Just 5% of consumers trust Gaming apps with their data – lagging way behind Finance, email and messaging apps.

There is a lot of work to be done by gaming apps to improve trust among their users – particularly for brands and developers that hope to underpin their marketing activities with user-level data. 

On the other hand, the baseline of trust here is so incredibly low that it’s likely that even some fairly straightforward changes – low-hanging fruit – will have a positive uplift. 

On a country level, consumers in Denmark are the most distrusting when it comes to apps using their personal data, by a significant margin – 60% above the average.

Some users would prefer to pay a fee than allow apps to use their data

Underlining the value that some users place on their own privacy was the discovery that more than a third of mobile users in the Nordics would actually prefer to pay a fee than allow access to their data.

To illustrate this point further: earlier, we saw that older generations of mobile users are less likely to spend money in mobile games on extra lives, items and such. 

However, when it comes to spending money to protect their privacy, older generations are increasingly more likely to prefer to pay. For the over 40s, more than a third would prefer to pay rather than give access to their data – and for over 60s, it’s nearly half.

Younger generations are much more likely to allow access to their data, but the majority would only be willing to give permission to their favorite sites or apps. Brand trust is a key factor for apps to obtain consent from their users.

Chapter 5

Key takeaways

  1. Measure. Although people are using their phones the same way, installs have increased. Marketers that are able to measure where these installs are coming from, and adjust their marketing strategy accordingly, will be in the best position.
  1. Increase investment in mobile. With mobile becoming the preferred way for many consumers to interact with brands, marketers should capitalize on this trend by increasing investment into their mobile marketing channel. Given consumers still prefer buying from physical stores, there is a big opportunity for retailers in particular to grow their audience on mobile.
  2. Prioritize UX. There’s huge potential for improving UX in apps, with a relatively small proportion of users feeling they get a good experience. As a starting point, the UX of your app must constantly prove its value. Think about how you can simplify users’ lives, or create more contextual experiences.
  3. Understand your audience. There is a higher proportion of female gamers on mobile than men – and gamers in their 40s represent the most avid demographic. However, men are much more likely to spend in games than women – and younger gamers are the most willing to spend. Gaming brands need to weigh up where their priorities lie – audience size, or higher revenue per user – and tailor their product and marketing strategy accordingly.
  4. Build trust. There is still plenty of work to be done to build trust between consumers and brands when it comes to user data, especially in the gaming industry. Strong brand affinity leads to user trust, so marketers should consider investing resources into branding campaigns. This may include developing your social presence, cross-promotion in other apps, email marketing and paid marketing.
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