The widespread popularity of the tablet has changed consumer behavior, and many online merchants are adjusting their ecommerce storefronts to adapt. Last year 66.9 million tablets were sold around the world. With these devices, consumers can conveniently customize and digest a variety of information in short amounts of time. The size of a tablet's screen allows for simpler navigation than the average smartphone, and its slim size is less clumsy than a laptop, making it a refreshing portable alternative to "chained to the desktop" browsing. The size and capabilities of tablets more aptly facilitate online shopping than smartphones, thus providing a more accessible ecommerce storefront than ever before. A recent eMarketer report predicted that one in three online customers will use a tablet by 2014, a wide target for ecommerce merchants. Online retailers wishing to remain competitive will very likely revise their content, designs, features and ads to meet new tablet standards.
The ecommerce storefront is expanding to tablets, and not merely in a peripheral way. With 20% of all mobile ecommerce sales traffic coming from tablets, online merchants can't afford to stick with the same old website design and merchandising strategies.
Rather than creating separate designs for the ever-changing mobile device market, merchants are instead turning toward a new toolkit which utilizes CSS3 media queries to assess specific conditions and apply different style sheets, optimizing viewing for each mobile device. Adaptive CSS can change styles based on different platforms, browsers, and resolutions. For optimal tablet viewing, merchant websites should account for resolutions appropriate for both the landscape and portrait modes available on tablets (approximately 1024 pixels). This will minimize zooming and swiping, which can be irritating to tablet viewers and could lead them away to other more "tablet friendly" shopping sites. Less Framework 4 is an "open source" style website design program that assists in creating adaptive websites. It is a CSS grid system containing four layouts and three sets of typography presets on one grid. Less Framework 4 uses CSS3 media queries to simplify the creation of websites with multiple layouts.
While customization is crucial to optimizing the shopping experience, a completely separate tablet-specific version of a website is not only unnecessary, but could be detrimental. Different websites segment visitors who may be accustomed to the look and feel of desktop versions. If it appears too different, users must learn new navigation which can lead to frustration and website abandonment. If website owners choose to create tablet-specific versions, they should always offer a return route for visitors to view the desktop version if they want.
Technologies that require browser plugins or additional software may not be supported on some tablets. In general, merchants should avoid flash since it has problems on the desktop, the iPad doesn't support it, and neither will those running Windows 8's Metro UI. It is also good practice to avoid loud audio that surprises tablet users who may be in public and find the noise annoying.
The human finger can't compete with the precision of the cursor. Other design modifications made to an ecommerce storefront should accommodate this new vehicle for navigation. Both buttons and font should be enlarged on tablets for ease of use. Key areas of navigation should be clearly visible; users should not have to zoom and swipe to find their way around a website. On the other hand, excessively large fonts limit the amount of information on the screen and force users to swipe to assess a webpage in its entirety. Tablet users should experience a simplified interface with enlarged photos. While catering to the human finger, enlarged drop-down menus often take up an entire screen and can block important content. A single vertical list menu on the side of a webpage is a more preferable option to drop-down lists. A single list avoids the trouble of mobile users having to search through multiple layers. Additionally, because tablet typing is still awkward, website owners should limit the amount of information visitors need to type to navigate the site.
One way tablets differ from desktop computers is in the content consumers digest. According to a GfK MRI report, 71% of tablet owners want to use the technology to read digital "press" including newspapers and magazines. The GfK MRI release also stated "digital magazines seem to be sparking new reading behavior among consumers. For instance, almost one fifth of tablet owners who read a magazine on their device in the last thirty days also took the opportunity to read back issues of a title during their reading session. The research firm also indicated that nearly three out of four tablet users who read digital magazines wanted to be able to click on an ad and make a purchase. Digital magazines could become the next big advertising agents for ecommerce businesses. Integrating "Buy Now" or "Add to Cart" buttons within digital media might lead to a more instantaneous sales pattern. Given this huge online merchandising potential, all ads should be informative, brief, and easy-to-view on any mobile device. Tablet owners spend more time and money shopping online, consumer behaviors businesses shouldn't ignore in their marketing campaigns. Ralph Lauren recently bought sponsorship in the New York Times digital magazine app for the iPad. Tapping on a banner ad directs users to a full-screen table of contents with striking photos, descriptions and video.
While businesses shouldn't overwhelm users with excessive media displays, tablet owners expect interactivity. Users regularly manipulate their content more similar to the handling of print forms than desktop or laptop activities. eCommerce businesses should try to service this expectation to the best of their capabilities. HTML5 offers many tools for creating engaging content on both tablet and desktop browsers. One way to serve this need is with 360° product images. It's very likely that the future's most successful eCommerce website owners will embrace video and multimedia that engages tablet-spawned visitors at the ecommerce storefront level.
As with any new marketing strategy, assessment is key. Online merchants should test new ads, designs and features and gather data to weigh their effectiveness. Merchants can use push-style website notifications and tablet-optimized emails to maintain brand awareness and continue conversations with consumers. Collecting and integrating regular feedback from customers will ultimately lead to an optimal design that reaches more users.
A growing pool of tablet users requires ecommerce marketing adjustments. If a merchant doesn't have the expertise to enter this brave new world, there are many resources to help.