While mobile goes from strength to strength in the ecommerce world, the rise of the tablet – albeit from a much smaller base – is quite astonishing. And, as Paul Skeldon points out, is something that retailers need to factor into their online retail strategy pronto.
Figures out in the run up to Christmas 2012 from IBM showed that tablet computers are increasingly playing a major role in how consumers go about online commerce, with IBM’s study suggesting that iPads alone account for 10.8% of online shopping over Christmas 2012.
This marks a major shift in not only the role tablets play in the whole m-commerce model, but also how online commerce is now becoming something that occurs over three key channels: computers, mobiles and tablets.
This isn’t as glib as it sounds: all three play very different roles in how consumers shop. In a purely transactional sense, the PC, the tablet and the mobile play very different roles based around location, immediacy, social and research. But looking more widely, they each play a very different role in the whole retail experience, more of which later.
So why is this tablet revolution taking place and why is it happening so suddenly?
“Tablets provide a simple user experience and better value browsing experience for consumers – they also offer improved browsing over traditional desktops as consumers are more likely to pick up and start flipping through websites in their leisure time whilst sat on the sofa than reaching for their laptop which can remind them of work,” explains Matt Clarke, Chief Technical Officer at Amaze, a cross-channel marketing agency. “The device is easy to use, shows products in a more engaging way and allows the consumer to be more submerged in the product compared with traditional browsers.”
Max Childs, Marketing Director at Amplience agrees: “Tablets just offer a much nicer and more engaging user experience and if retailers do start to optimise for tablets and design tablet-specific apps they tend to get a much stickier experience and more repeat business.”
One extremely interesting example of how tablets fit into a new niche within the ecommerce model is the app designed by Argos for the iPad. “Argos was typically associated with being a catalogue company, with a catalogue that lived on your coffee table and that every member of the family dipped into,” says James Lovell, Smarter Commerce Solution Consultant, Europe for IBM. “This lends itself perfectly to the iPad. The iPad increasingly is a family web access point that lives on the coffee table and lets people dip into it.”
This is why the Argos iPad app is such a strong proposition: it melds the ‘old skool’ with the new and uses the technology to deliver a more connected and digital version of what the company has done all along.
And other retailers are starting to realise the same. M&S and Ikea have both brought out catalogue like iPad apps to capitalise on this move to the iPad being a shared family living room tool. Even the likes of car maker Land Rover is utilising iPad-specific apps to start to build more compelling consumer engagement.
This is the reason why tablets are seeing such unprecedented growth in the e- and m-commerce environment. They are rapidly filling that gap between the laptop/desktop computer that you typically have to go to in order to get online and the smartphone, which is very private and personal. The tablet has almost created a new niche: one where it is a shared common family access device to the web – and therefore commerce – while the family is sitting around on the sofa.
The fact that these devices start almost instantly and are designed to be ‘scooped up’ and used means that they are redefining ecommerce. There will come a day when no-one buys a laptop – tablets will be powerful enough to do the job.
“More people are choosing tablets when they are considering new home IT spend and they now occupy this great middle ground between desktops and phones and this will drive their use as a new kind of m- or ecommerce shopping platform,” believes Amy Vale, VP, Global Marketing, Mojiva.
But so far all of the developments – and indeed the facts and figures – surrounding the boom in tablet commerce is centred very much on the iPad. And while this device is currently the real exemplar of tablet technology, ignoring the other tablet devices coming up through the ranks could be something that retailers today do at their peril.
Apple is still the high end of the tablet market but other manufacturers are making them more and more cheaply and adding increasing web and apps functionality to devices such as ebook readers. And this is where the real tablet traction is going to happen, some believe.
“The cost of tablet devices such as the Kindle Fire is already so low that more people will start to use them for all manner of online activities,” says Mojiva’s Vale. “It is important that retailers, while struggling right now to get their smartphone strategies in place and integrated into their businesses are also looking at how to develop apps and compelling shopping experiences on other tablet devices as this is where the real big business will be in a year or two.”
IBM’s Lovell agrees. “Retailers must right now look at their tablet strategy and not just base it around the iPad. Kindle, Google and Samsung and many others all have tablet products. Soon there will be many more and you have to be ready.”
This brings us to the bit that no retailer wants to hear: you have to have a tablet strategy in place right now and it has to cover not just the main devices today, but be ready for the devices of the future.
“You have to build once and deliver as an optimised experience across a range of devices and device types,” says Lovell. “And these days that means having different experiences for smartphones to laptops to tablets as consumers are all using them in very different ways. It’s a challenge, but with the right technology partner you can make it happen.”
All this bears out Christmas 2012’s statistics that tablets are growing very rapidly. But are you as retailers ready for the fact that tablets aren’t just smartphones on steroids, nor are they flyweight laptops. They are becoming a shopping platform of their own, and they are likely to become, in the next five years, the main access point to ecommerce for most consumers. So, time to take the tablets seriously.
Tablets in store
While there is something of a revolution occurring around how consumers use tablets for ‘couch commerce’, these devices are also becoming something that is set to revolutionise the in-store experience, for both retailers and their floor staff and consumers.
“The beginnings of 4G networks and the fact that retailers are increasingly rolling out their own in store wifi networks means that the whole experience of being in a store is set to change dramatically this year,” says James Lovell, Smarter Commerce Solution Consultant, Europe for IBM. “Better networks in stores will see more consumers able to interact with their physical environment with devices and tablets, because they provide such a rich experience, have a big part to play in this.”
But while in store networks and consumer devices allow for the fusing of the online and in store world’s for consumers, devices such as tablets – along with these in store networks – are really set to revolutionise how in-store shopping works.
M&S has already started to equip many of its staff with iPads to help them with background information and stock details for wine and clothing, allowing staff to order out of stock products and to help give consumers more info on the sales floor. So far it has equipped 36 UK stores and its Paris store and is planning to have them in all 350 UK stores that sell general merchandise and food this year.
But with other retailers such as DFS and Burberry and others either equipping staff with iPads or nailing iPads to pillars in stores, it could be questioned as to the value of doing this.
Consumers that are tech savvy will probably look stuff up for themselves, while those that aren’t are going to want good old fashioned customer service rather than a tablet. Balancing this in store is going to be one of the key multichannel challenges for 2013.