How likely are users to switch browsers?

20 Apr 2012 - 10:00am
4 years ago
9 replies
1896 reads


My company has developed a plug-in that we think our users will love, but right now it's for Chrome only and most of our visitors are using IE. Does anyone know of any research that has been done to suggest that users will - or won't - switch to a different browser so they can access content or features not provided by their current browser? Anyone have anecdotal evidence or experience with this question? Thanks in advance for your feedback.



20 Apr 2012 - 10:47am
Moses Wolfenstein

Anecdotally I know a number of academics who switched to Firefox when Zotero was first released as it was the only browser that the plug-in was built for initially, but that random assortment of tech savvy academics is definitely not representative of most users. 

20 Apr 2012 - 10:53am

Unfortunately there are still many users who may not understand the difference between IE and another browser or why they should switch. I recently read an article related to this subject which I found interesting as it reflects a personal experience. It's from last year but still a good eye-opener. How do you convince the average web user to switch to a non-IE browser.

In the end if you are developing any product, you cater to your masses. Otherwise, like buying a new car, you have to show the user how it will affect their experience so that there is value in going through what they think is a hassle of switching. 

Perhaps a  video outlining difference between the plug-in experience using one browser as opposed to another, with an educational aspect on browsers? Sometimes clients appreciate being taught something new. :)

20 Apr 2012 - 10:55am
Caroline Jarrett

On the whole, it seems fairly unlikely to me that users will switch for this purpose.

1. In corporate life: the users frequently have no choice over what browser they will use, and are not allowed to download or change.

2. People who are not tech-savvy: may not even know that they use a browser. I hear things like: "I'll click on the Internet'. Or, "I liked Google but when I got this new computer it says Bing and so that's what I have to use". Even if they have grasped that they use a browser, they may not feel willing, or even be able, to install new programs on their computer. "My daughter does that for me". 

3. People who definitely ARE tech-savvy but have their own reasons for using particular browsers in particular ways. Right now, I am using Safari for this post; I have Chrome running with 5 tabs open (an unusually light day) and Firefox open for other purposes. And I use IE for other purposes. Mismatch between your product and the things I prefer to do in that browser? Hard luck, I won't switch, probably. 

Which isn't evidence, just impression. Your mileage may vary.

Caroline Jarrett


20 Apr 2012 - 12:03pm
Paul Pinkney

I don't have any research per se, but I have witnessed users changing or not changing browsers for the following reasons:

1. Performance - One example is quite recent.  Firefox has become a bit of a pig, using a lot of memory.  On my computer it has used as much as 6 GB of RAM (!), which has slowed my computer immensely.  My wife has had the same problem with only a couple of tabs open.  She has since switched to Chrome.

In addition, I don't use Safari because it doesn't perform well on Windows.  (I know -- I just need to bite the bullet and get a Mac, but that's just not a real option right now.)

2. Security - Many people switched to Firefox once they heard about or were the victims of IE's security holes.  Keep in mind this is a few years ago, but it could happen all over again with the browser options opening up, especially for the various mobile devices.  Obviously, this reason is more for the tech-savvy, but as mentioned before, tech-savvy people influence family and friends.

3. Bugs or insufficient support - When people want to see that new, cool website that all their friends or co-workers are talking about, they want to see it.  If they browser of choice doesn't support it, people have been known to switch, because they don't want to miss out on anything else.  But honestly, I haven't witnessed this one more than a couple of times.  Most people get in a comfort zone and don't want out.

4. Requirements - As mentioned before, a lot of corporations and government agencies restrict workers to a particular vendor (such as IE) and even version (such as 7.0), or they don't give you admin permissions, so no one can download and install anything.  I celebrated when a particular organization I design for moved from IE 6 to IE 7, and that wasn't long ago.  It might not sound like a reason to celebrate, but it really was.

Generally, my experience has been that people won't change browsers unless they experience a problem.  Most people don't want to take the time to learn how a particular piece of software works unless it's really fun, and even then, it better not take long to figure it out.  On top of that, they have all their bookmarks in their browser, and they don't want to figure out how to get them over to a new one.  That can be a big barrier to adoption, but as you might have seen, some vendors are making it easier.

Hope this is useful.

20 Apr 2012 - 12:23pm

There's a big flag in your post Laughing that I see. Can we back it up for a second?

"My company has developed a plug-in that we think our users will love, but right now it's for Chrome only and most of our visitors are using IE."

Let's look at this hypothesis. The best (only?) way to confirm if customers will change browsers is by asking them. You can do this in a live environment by providing a value proposition and measuring the uptake. Even better, take the concept out to your community and get some feedback and signal from them. It doesn't sound like this step is part of your process and today, most of us UX designers believe it is essential when innovating new products and features. Why did your team decide to build the plug in for only one browser and one that you know that most of your users don't use? My gut feel is that people don't want to muck about with tools like browsers. They even have resistence sometimes to upgrading to latest versions. I know for me (and I am not everyone by any stretch), I sigh and roll my eyes when I have to reboot my machine (Vista :( ) and always feel like now is not a good time. Then there are bookmarks and just the feel of the browser which has comfort and familiarity. So, unless you took the idea of building it in Chrome out to your users and got some signal back from them that they'd be willing to switch or add Chrome to their desktop and use it possibly solely for your plug in it seems a bit crazy that you spent time and money building something that very possibly none of your users is going to adopt.

If your team were to take a step back and see this as a great opportunity to introduce the feedback loop into your process, this would give you the answers you need and probably the input you might need to build a tool that they really want. When you build something that about 40% of people using it would be unhappy if you took away, you can consider yourself successful.

I think our job as designers (and particularly as a UX strategists) is to align beliefs and values. Therefore it is our job to do the best we can to learn about what those are from the community and then iteratively present products and services that address those beliefs and values. If your community values the familiarity of the browser they use over the benefits of your plug-in, I think you will have more success if you shift, rather than try and figure out a way to get your users to shift.

I too hope this is a helpful perspective.

20 Apr 2012 - 3:15pm
Audrey Crane

I agree with LFrancis that it's good to learn directly from your users as much as you can, but be aware that asking people if they will change is not going to be a very good predictor of whether they actually will do it. Most human factors books will talk about this (attitude or intention as a predictor of behavior) -- see for example Human Factors in Web Design.

A better way to test would be to see if people actually do it through a live traffic test. It sounds like you have this running though, so maybe your data has already answered your question?

20 Apr 2012 - 4:30pm

Me again. A clarification. I agree completely that there would be little value in asking participants directly if they would switch browsers. What I was suggesting was to put the whole thing in front of them they way you have it set up and see what they do, listen to the comments and the questions they ask. Even more important if the value of the plug in itself has not been validated with actual users then there is much to learn.  If the users are not in agreement that the plug in features are valuable then there is even less chance they would load another browser just to use it.


So, two things 1) check with your user community and 2) validate two primary hypotheses you have built the plug in on ( people really want the features the plug-in offers  and they will be willing to load another browser in order to use it. Then iterate around the product again with those insights. As Jared Spool has discovered through his research, products improve the more everyone on the team is exposed to end users so solving the question this way is beneficial in that way as well.





22 Apr 2012 - 12:25pm

Not only do you have to consider whether your users will switch browsers, you need to consider whether they understand how to use a plug-ins. If the majority of your users are currently using IE, they have most likely never upgraded their browser or considered other browsing options. 

22 Apr 2012 - 1:10pm
Richard Carson


Users are constantly switching from the PC to Mac platform everyday. This would also entail a complete switch to a new browser in many cases. Unless your one of the few who used Chrome, Opera, or actually jumped from IE to the discontinued Mac IE. These type of statistics should prove the likelyness to switch browsers, though in the event of a platform change. Leaves off with a question, will people switch browsers, while keeping the same platform?

So then there is browser use statistics, which maybe hard to differentiate between browser growth vs user switching. But I think many people who use browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Opera are all evidences of people who made a switch from their default browser (ie: IE on PC or Safari on Mac).







Syndicate content Get the feed