Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Do retailers need to optimise for tablet users?

This question should be answered using a combination of traffic data and user testing. 
First of all, are tablets driving a decent volume of traffic to your website? If so, then the opportunity is there to make the most of this traffic by improving the user experience and making the purchase journey as smooth as possible. 
As Belron Customer Experience Manager Craig Sullivan says, the iPad may be worth optimising for, but only if you have accounted for mobile first: 
"If you have a lousy mobile site, don't think that making a cool iPad experience will give you a better conversion lift, especially if your traffic from other devices is higher. For me, it's all down to the traffic figures, how much improvement you can make to the experience and the conversion rate you might attain."
In summary: iPad conversion rates may be higher than mobile, but the latter may be delivering five times the traffic that tablets do, and may represent the bigger opportunity. 
However, if you have accounted for mobile traffic with a well-optimised website, or the tablet traffic is significant, the next step is to look at the user experience of your site on tablets.  
There are a number of ways to do this, and the first step is to look at how you site works on iPad, though testing with a number of users will help you to identify areas for improvement.  
Though there are some potential usability issues, the browsing experience on a tablet is generally far superior to that on a smartphone, though it does fall below the desktop/laptop experience.  
According to a recent Econsultancy / Toluna survey of 2,000 online consumers, the user experience for tablets, rated across five sectors, was generally good or excellent. 
For retailers that already have a mobile optimised of their website, the temptation may be to serve that version to people using tablets. However, in most circumstances this would be a mistake. 
In general, people would prefer to use the normal website with the full range of features, rather than a simplified version. 
If retailers are serious about catering to tablet users, then it is necessary to test the site using iPads and other tablets to see what the problem areas are. Depending on the site, producing an optimised version for tablet users may be simple.  

Do you need an app or an optimised site? 

To appeal to the broadest possible audience, and to make it findable via search, then a website optimised for tablets has to be the priority.  
This doesn’t mean an app is not worth considering, but I think apps need to do something different to the standard website to be effective. 
For example, Net A Porter has an iPad app which presents its magazine content in interactive form. People can click on the products and buy them, but it is a different product to the main website, or its mobile site. 
This blend of content and commerce, which Net A Porter does so well, is very well suited to the tablet format, but would suit other retailers who use print magazines and catalogues. 
The combination of the catalogue format and tablets can be a powerful tool, potentially offering the best of both worlds for retailers. 
When used well, catalogue apps combine the lean-back experience of the print catalogue with the interactivity and fast route to purchase of the web.
The Figleaves.com iPad app is a great example of this. Like a catalogue, you can browse through page by page, but it also provides plenty of alternatives for people to find products quickly. 
While Figleaves has managed to blend the catalogue style with e-commerce best practice, such as detailed product pages and a well-designed checkout, other retailers, such as Next have simply used existing mobile apps, which don’t work so well. 
If retailers are going to do something different with an app, and design it specifically for tablets, then this can work well. However, this is more useful for appealing to existing customers, giving them reasons to shop again. 
Since new customers are far more likely to arrive at your site through search than by downloading an app developing a version of your site optimised for tablets is the best strategy. 

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