The Tablet Experience: A Must-Have for Retailers

Retailers cannot afford to ignore the tablet shopping experience. Yes, your full site will render on a tablet and be somewhat useable with a lot of pinching and scrolling. Yes, your phone experience will be extra nice and big on a tablet. But neither takes full advantage of the tablet’s explosive growth, features, and unique user mindset.

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Tablet sales are echoing the ‘wild exuberance’ of the cellphone industry in its early years,” with unit growth expected to grow by 85 percent. ComScore’s excellent Digital Omnivores report highlights the distinctions between phone and tablet use. Phone activities are focused and specific. Shoppers check prices while physically shopping to make sure they aren’t paying too much, aka showrooming. The key takeaway is that we want it all: to be able to see, touch, and feel and get the best bargain.

Tablet users are more likely to be in a “lean-back” environment – at home, on the couch or in bed. Jakob Nielsen first used the lean forward/lean back characterization to distinguish between TV and web consumption. But that was in 2008, before the iPad arrived to bridge the gap. As comScore reports, tablet use peaks in the evening as computer and smartphone use is in decline. And, most importantly, tablet users are more likely to be browsing and buying online.

Since the ultimate goal is commerce, I say start with a tablet-optimized site and add an app second. Why site over app? It’s simply a matter of reach. As Jason Grigsby states in his Cloud Four blog, email, social media, SEO, and online ads send traffic via links, and links can’t open an app. How likely are you to download all the apps that may feature a product of interest when you can browse, bookmark, and compare online?

We can intuit from the practice of showrooming that customers are not as loyal as we would like and they want to experience products. On a tablet, consumers are likely to be in the perfect mindset, winding down from the day and ready to browse. Do you want them to see your desktop site shrunk down to roughly one-third of its size?

This calls for a mobile-first approach, eloquently described in Luke Wroblewski’s book:

“When you consider the amount of useless navigation, content fluff and irrelevant promotions that litter a typical web experience, you realize why the mobile diet can be good for both businesses and customers. Once people use the mobile version, it’s not uncommon for them to pine for the desktop version to be ‘that simple.'”

On the other hand, Wroblewski notes in his blog, page views diminish along with tablet screen size. To state the obvious, people won’t buy what they can’t see, and the phone’s use cases differ significantly from the tablets. It’s not simply a matter of serving up your phone-optimized site to the tablet audience.

Customers must be able to browse as well as buy. While checkout is easier on a tablet, it’s still a giant pain to enter all that data over and over again. I long for the day when we can securely enter all the necessary information with a simple login on any site, à la PayPal. While retailers don’t want to lose customer data to a third-party payment method, let’s not forget the impact of Amazon’s simple checkout on web shopping.

There are many roadblocks on the path to a great tablet experience. But as Wroblewski states:

“…mobile remains a very constrained environment…But these constraints are not only good for business, they’re good for design as well…Embracing constraints (rather than fighting with them) will ultimately get you to better designs.”

The AMPT effect means higher expectations for good design and hassle-free interfaces. Retailers that embrace the constraints and create great tablet experiences will meet our expectations and the CEO’s as well.

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