How Top Marketers are Adapting to the Challenges of Tablet Commerce
About The Author:Alex Schmelkin, co-founder and president of Alexander Interactive (Ai), has been helping companies build their business online since the advent of the Internet. Alex brings 15 years of expertise in online business strategy, web usability and technology to every client engagement, guaranteeing unmatched senior-level counsel and direction around every online initiative. Before founding Ai, Alex co-founded Davanita Design, a New York-based digital agency. After growing from 3 to 20 people, Davanita was acquired by Avatar Technology, where Alex served as president and CEO of the New York division.
Tablets are an exciting new platform for online marketers, with their own set of capacities and limitations. Retail marketing is now being transformed by the touch of a screen, and the future will only continue to become increasingly reliant on new technologies, as we become irrevocably submerged in the promise of the digital era. With the advent of Apple’s iPad and other tablet computers, online retailers have become more interested in the capabilities and limitations of tablets, a tool that is transforming how business, consumer, and social habits are being conducted.
According to Forrester Research, mobile commerce is expected to top $6 billion by the year’s end, and by 2016, will constitute 7 percent of total e-commerce sales at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39 percent. The rate appears to be impressive, but pales in comparison to the expected CAGR for tablet adoption—50 percent through 2015. Sources predict tablets will play a dominant role in mobile commerce in relation to smartphones, as larger screens and more robust capabilities provide a superior shopping and browsing experience.
Tablet users have incorporated the device into their livelihoods, growing dependent on its multifaceted capabilities for virtually everything. As such, it is worth considering the hybridism of tablet usage patterns—a mix between those of desktop and mobile devices. Although more portable than desktops, tablets may be primarily used in the home for infinite purposes, including media consumption, reading books or magazines, surfing the web, reading email and, of course, shopping.
With tablet optimization becoming pivotal for online retailers, Alexander Interactive evaluated the sites of the ten largest retailers on the web, assessing the quality of their user experience. Currently, with a 68 percent market share, the iPad dominates the tablet device market; for this reason, Ai’s evaluation was conducted solely using the iPad. Findings were based on the examination of a multitude of factors related to how well each retailer site performed on a tablet. In addition, Ai examined the subjective judgments on various aspects of the t-commerce experience as a whole. The analysis takes into consideration responsive design, adaptive layout, appropriate content sizing, minimal clutter, finger-swipe support, and optimized form functionality, among others, in providing each retailer with a holistic assessment.
It is important to note that, while most of the retailers evaluated in the study offered iPhone/iPad apps, none offered a dedicated, optimized tablet site. If elements of design and development are intended to achieve effectual business goals, retailers have to provide optimized tablet site experiences for their customers, and cannot continue to rely on dedicated mobile apps.
Amazon.com, the top revenue-producing internet retailer, is the most tablet-optimized of the ten evaluated, as it offers larger buttons and less aesthetic clutter. The biggest improvement,in terms of UX, comes in the form of a navigational fly-out that lungesfrom the “Shop by Department” button. The dropdown also functions properly on finger tap, which cannot be said of all dropdown menus in Ai’s report. While the retailer has taken steps to enhance the tablet experience, individual page elements remain quite small—virtuallyto the point of not being clickable.
Staples.com can be seen as the archetype of sites in the report, as it maintains a decent desktop experience that is iPad conducive, but not without palpable flaws. Usability is hindered by a cluttered drop-down menu and search results are particularly inadequate. The introduction of a right side promo bar diminishes the amount of available space for the filtering controls, making it difficult to click, and consequently, reducing the amount of real estate for the individual search results.
Online retailer CDW is prominent amongst corporate I.T. departments. According to the Internet Retailer Top 500 guide, the site has generated over $2.7 billion in Web sales in 2010 and consecutively ranks amongst the top 10 in response time and site availability. The company does not have a mobile site and relies on its desktop-based site on iPhone and iPad devices. While the experience is not ideal on the iPhone, Ai found the desktop site appropriate and adequate on an iPad. In landscape mode the user-interface is relatively easy to use, though fonts and various elements on the page become more cumbersome to use in portrait mode because of a narrower layout. Although the user-experience on the device was decent, the site offers an Adobe Flash-enabled photo gallery that is not compatible with the iPad. The retailer would find it beneficial to consider hiding this functionality on the device or replacing it with static photography.
While all retailers, including Walmart, Sears, Dell, and Office Max, suffer from usability problems, and offer limited tablet shopping experiences, Nike’s tablet-optimized ecommerce site has proven to be eye-opening for e-retailers. Browsing Nike.com reveals an engaging Web site built for the iPad, featuring hi-res photography and a tap-friendly user interface. Product listing pages adapt to the orientation of the tablet, creating simple navigation for customers to locate coveted items.
The Four Seasons, also a dedicated t-commerce site, offers a suitable user-experience on the iPad: the homepage fits nicely on the device’s display and features swipe-enabled background photography displaying the company’s luxury hotels—it would, however, have been better off had it not relied on its desktop-optimized site for its core functionality.
Luxury retailer Gucci’s tablet-optimized site launched in September 2010. The online merchant’s home page exhibits its three most recent collections and tap-friendly navigation at the top of the page. The luminous photography on the site’s category pages is easy to tap-and-swipe and product pages feature the ideal amount of content for the tablet. A prominent call-to-action feature, when completing the purchase via the site’s iPad-optimized checkout process, is beneficial for the navigability purposes and customer experience.
Retailers must continue to improve their t-commerce UX optimization. Tablet commerce usage continues to make rapid inroads with consumer and business practices; it is only bound to get stronger and will more aggressively shape B2B and B2C ventures. Online merchants must recognize the imminent changes evident in consumer habits and prepare for a tablet based future or proceed with negligible modifications at their peril.