The meteoric rise in tablet computer sales could affect how online retailers market in 2012, including driving changes in site design, site features, content, and advertising.
Global tablet computer shipments leapt to 26.8 million units in the fourth quarter of last year, setting new sales records for the devices, according to Peter King, a director at research firm Strategy Analytics. For all of 2011, some 66.9 million tablets were sold around the world, up approximately 260 percent from 2010.
The sheer number of tablets in circulation implies that the devices could impact online retailers, if, in fact, consumers expect a significantly different ecommerce experience on a tablet. Perhaps, the key concern for ecommerce merchants then should be those areas where tablet interactions differ from laptop or desktop shopping experiences.
The Content Consumed on Tablets May Be Different
One of the first areas of difference between tablet usage and user behavior on more standard computing devices like laptops and desktops is in the area content, in particular, digital magazines and visually-driven news sites. This is especially true if high-functioning electronic readers — like the Nook Color or Kindle Fire — are included in the tablet category.
Research firm GfK MRI reported in January 2012 that some 71 percent of tablet owners wanted to read digital magazines on their iPads, Fires, and similar tablet devices.
“Moreover,” the GfK MRI release said, “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 30 days also took the opportunity to read back issues of a title during their reading session.”
Anecdotally, the popularity of iPad applications like Flipboard also seems to support the idea that tablet users like visual, magazine-like content.
Tablet Users May Want to Touch Products
A second key difference between laptop and desktop usage and tablet usage may be in the very tactile nature of a tablet's interface.
Tablet users are accustomed to touching the screen, pinching, stretching, and swiping content with their fingers. This very physical interaction changes both the experience and the expectation.
4 Ways Tablets Could Affect Design, Marketing
With just these two areas of difference — visually-driven, magazine-like content and a touch interface — in view, there are at least four possible implications for online retailers and their marketing efforts in this emerging tablet era.
First, digital magazines could become viable advertising vehicles for ecommerce. GfK MRI found 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. Display ads in digital magazines could feature “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” buttons that would lead to immediate sales.
Second, the apparent affinity tablet users have for digital magazines could inspire online retailers to increase or improve their content and entertainment marketing efforts this year. (Content and entertainment marketing relies on producing articles, images, and video to engage current or potential customers.) Specifically, merchants could become publishers, producing short monthly magazines or even video programming designed to appeal to tablet-using consumers. Also look for agencies to offer tablet magazines as a service.
Third, to accommodate touch interfaces, online retailers will want to redesign sites with wider navigation buttons and larger fonts. This can be done with responsive or adaptive designs using grid layouts and CSS3 Media Queries.
Fourth, since the tactical tablet interface implies that users can manually manipulate content, site owners would be wise to add new features like 360-degree product images that are easy to swipe or drag and high-resolution product images that can be zoomed or panned with pinching or stretching motions.
Don't Ignore Tablets
Tablet computers are on the rise, and these popular devices may be facilitating changes in user behavior, ranging from what sort of content users consume to how those users interact with that content. These changes could affect online retailers in areas of site design, site features, content, and advertising.