Geek looking at data


How COVID-19 Changed App Usage Among Canadians

Sep 29, 2021, 04:29 PM by Environics Analytics
New database shows Canadians’ app behaviours shifted across several interest categories


COVID-19 has undeniably been responsible for driving many changes in our day-to-day lives. Across Canada, recurring waves of spiking infection rates have forced widespread lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, resulting in partial or complete closures of brick-and-mortar businesses.

In response to varying restrictions, Canadian consumers have adapted and modified how they access the products and services they use regularly. One of the most prominent behavioural changes was the increase in mobile app usage, which contributed to the acceleration of digital adoption across all population segments.  

It’s important for businesses to understand the extent to which these changes in online behaviours are impacting them in order to shape future marketing strategies, staffing and product or service delivery. Our newest behavioural database, ClickScapes, captures visitors and visits to individual mobile apps and websites. By combining it with the PRIZM® segmentation system, we can see which Canadians are using more apps and whose usage is growing fastest. Looking at some 400 apps in devices connected to Canada’s mobile networks, we see dramatic increases in the number of apps used at least once a day.


Pictured above: ClickScapes leverages billions of data points that can be transformed on a regular basis and made available through easy-to-use software that helps businesses can make informed decisions.


To understand what changed over the past year and a half, we've analyzed how app usage increased for specific population segments and across key interest categories, including  financial institutions, home improvement and DIY retailers and health and fitness digital properties. 


Canadian app enthusiasts are no longer just the young and influential

Overall, the number of apps used jumped 31% from 2019 (the 12-month period) to the 12-month period from June 2020 to June 2021, with most of that growth occurring in 2020. The average Canadian over 15 years of age uses 2.15 different apps at least once per day, compared to 1.65 in 2019.

Unsurprisingly, the most intensive app users are younger Canadians. Of the younger populations, the segment, “Latte Life”—a segment of “apartment-dwelling young Canadians establishing themselves in professional careers”—takes the prize for greatest app usage at 3.36 apps per day: 50% more than the Canadian average.

Several other young segments, including “Social Networkers” and “Friends & Roomies” are also well ahead of average usage, and continue to grow at rates in line with the national average, around 30%. These young Canadians appear determined to keep their lead in connectedness while on the go.

What’s more, ClickScapes insights show strong digital adoption and high app usage growth among older Canadians, often in smaller cities, towns and rural areas. App usage of the segments “Boomer Bliss”, “Kick-Back Country”, “Scenic Retirement”, “Patrimoine Rustique”, “Agri-Biz” and “Vie au Village” all grew at upwards of 35% compared to 2019, representing some of the fastest growth in the country.


An image showing two PRIZM segment groups: one with young and urban singles and couples showing high app usage combined with fastest growth vs. small town and rural baby boomers showing the fastest growth rate in app usage.

Pictured above: two PRIZM® segment groups: one with young and urban singles and couples showing high app usage combined with fastest growth vs. small town and rural baby boomers showing the fastest growth rate in app usage.


When analyzing the app usage of Canadians belonging to visible minority groups, the digital behaviours are particularly nuanced, similar to Canada’s ethnocultural portrait today. Patterns vary depending on the interaction of demographic factors such as cultural heritage and affluence. For example, “South Asian Society”— comprised of middle-aged, middle-income South Asian families—had the fastest growth in app usage (49%) of all of 67 PRIZM segments. Meanwhile, “Asian Sophisticates”, “Asian Avenues” and “Middle-Class Mosaic” all have below-average usage and growth.


Virtual banking claims largest growth across the financial industry

Canada’s major banks can be seen as a few big fish in a small pond.

To understand app usage trends for the country’s largest financial institutions, we used “visit days"* to view the period between 2019 and the 12 months ending June 2021.

For instance, if someone used the app at least once every day in June, the visit days would be 30 for that month. By totalling the visit days across the population for a period of time, we get a measure of the volume of use for any specific financial institution.

ClickScapes shows that Canada’s big banks experienced double-digit growth in the use of their mobile apps early in the pandemic, before some flattening (or slight declines) moving into 2021. Virtual institutions saw the most substantial growth as much as 91% in 2020, followed by 16% for the year ending June 2021.

From this analysis, we see that most institutions have shown increases or flat activity, indicating that Canadians used their mobile apps intensively at the start of the pandemic, with trends appearing to hold strong into 2021.


More time at home signals a boom in DIY and home improvement projects

Over the past 17 months, interest in home renovations and DIY projects ballooned as Canadians looked for ways to stay busy and improve their living spaces.

ClickScapes reveals that app usage for home improvement retailers climbed to double-digit increases in daily visits in 2020 and 2021 YTD—some gaining over 80% growth in 2020.

This wave of home renovations and DIY projects was primarily driven by Baby Boomers going online and middle-income, multi-ethnic suburbanite segments, like “Asian Avenues”, “South Asian Society” and “Stressed in Suburbia”.


PRIZM Segment 17   PRIZM Segment 30  PRIZM Segment 38 
Pictured above: Middle-income, multi-ethnic suburbanite segments like Asian Avenues (17), South Asian Society (30) and Stressed in Suburbia (38) were responsible for driving app usage to home renovations apps.


According to ClickScapes data, Smart Home apps—a more digital approach to home improvement—saw an uptick during the pandemic with a 28% growth in visitors. Growth for these kinds of apps was consistent across all segments of the Canadian population, but middle to lower-middle-income Canadians showed especially strong interest in this category.

It will be interesting to see if the spikes in app usage for home improvement retailers are here to stay, and how these retailers will move forward with learnings from the pandemic. In a recent survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), 45% of North American CEOs responded that their organizations plan to significantly increase long-term investments in digital transformation initiatives over the next three years.


Moving the gym into the living room

Forced into the confines of their homes, Canadians had to rethink where and how they stayed moving.

With gyms and fitness centres forced to close periodically due to COVID-19 restrictions, data trends show an initial surge of 26% for exercise apps and website usage in 2020 with 3.1 million monthly unique visitors, followed by more modest growth in 2021 of 6%. The original uptick was driven by older, small-town and rural Canadians, with notable growth occurring in segments like “Scenic Retirement” (36%) and “Banlieues Tranquilles” (46%).


PRIZM Segment 21   PRIZM Segment 42 
Pictured above: Older and small-town and rural segments, Scenic Retirement (21) and Banlieues Tranquilles (42), were among the highest exercise app and website users in 2020.


On the other hand, as Canadians stayed home, many reported gaining weight. This presented an opportunity for one weight-loss app to capitalize on the trend by aggressively promoting its service. The app saw usage grow from an average of 44,000 visit-days monthly in 2019 to 569,000 by mid-year 2021. ClickScapes showed that users were more likely to be middle-aged and older Canadians in both English and French Canada.


Leveraging app behaviours to future-proof businesses

Increases in app usage are presenting new opportunities and new challenges for businesses across several industries.

Digital habits are sticking as a result of the pandemic, and now is the time to leverage the latest app usage trends to better understand, connect and engage with today’s app-savvy Canadians. This means making data-driven decisions when identifying trends, targeting across channels and keeping an eye on the competition.

With access to over 7,500 apps, companies, interests and websites for analysis, ClickScapes provides a new view of the digital behaviours of Canadians. Book a demo and learn how your organization can utilize timely digital behavioural insights at the neighbourhood level to better understand your consumers and markets.


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*The average total number of days in a month that the site was visited.

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