Tablet Retail Impact: Sometimes, No Change <i>Is</i> The Best Strategy

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What, if anything, should retailers do differently about tablet computers, in an M-Commerce context? Not much, it turns out. But it's hard to glean that from the flood of stats out there. Consider some numbers IBM Coremetrics has been talking up recently. The company reported that "shoppers using an iPad will lead to more retail purchases more often per visit than other mobile devices," with iPad conversion rates at 6.8 percent versus 3.6 percent for all mobile devices. That may be true, of course. But it's also obvious that the larger screen of a tablet will enable more activity than the typical smartphone. What if IBM Coremetrics had said that shoppers using a laptop or a desktop computer will deliver more purchases than a smartphone?

That said, tablets are becoming quite popular, and a migration of sales from PCs and laptops down to tablets is inevitable. From the chain's perspective, though, that change may be barely felt, because the tablets will simply be accessing your regular Web site. At best, it might be a slightly tweaked version of your site. Most of the current tablets don't really need much—if any—tweaking to deliver an acceptable experience.

To put tablets into perspective, there are only three place categories at issue: home/office; in-store; and in-transit (walking, on a train or plane, in a car, or visiting a customer or a friend). Let's look at each of those three areas.

  • Home/Office
    There will be a fairly slight migration away from the laptop/desktop to the tablet here. First, sales of tablets will increase and desktop/laptop sales will start to slow down. It will take several years, but tablets will start to replace their larger ancestors. Second, it's true that as long as there is a laptop/desktop in the house, most E-Commerce/M-Commerce in the office/home will happen there. But there will be a small movement away even when both options co-exist. That will happen because of the ease of movement of the tablet. It will make major inroads in the "sitting on the couch, lying in bed" category.

    As referenced earlier, though, to what end? It won't merit any significantly different effort on the part of the retailer, beyond the routine tweaks to make the site as accessible to tablets as possible.

  • In-Store
    For the next year or so—and maybe quite a bit longer—tablets are not going to be a customer-using factor here. Store associates will be using tablets extensively, but it's highly unlikely consumers will pull out their tablets in-store. Smartphones will dominate here for quite some time.

  • In Transit
    Here's where tablets are going to dominate. Sitting in a waiting room or on a train or in a plane, consumers will have the time and lap space to tabletize. And, yes, to the point IBM was trying to make, this will likely generate a net increase in E-Commerce/M-Commerce sales. It will generate sales that wouldn't have happened on the smartphone (screen is too small, sites too slow) and also wouldn't have happened on a laptop (too bulky and battery-hogging for shopping).