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The iPad Is Changing Internet Commerce

There are concrete steps Internet retailers can take to optimize their stores for tablets. By Jimmy Guterman

As the Apple iPad becomes an even more popular home device (it’s already the dominant tablet), Internet retailers need to accommodate the needs of people using them. Those on iPads are exactly the kind of customers Internet retailers want. According to research at Yahoo, iPad-armed shoppers are “likely to be affluent consumers with solid wealth and strong incomes.”

Apple’s recent blowout earnings announcement underlines how big this market could get – and fast. The research firm Forrester estimates that mobile commerce will top $10 billion this year and it hasn’t been long since Apple predicted that tablets will outsell PCs within three years. But Internet retailers don’t have to wait that long for tablets to have an impact on sales. According to research firm Gartner, the tablet market will double to nearly 119 million units in 2012, with Apple taking 61% of it.

As Patti Ziegler, chief marketing officer at advertising firm Engauge, notes, “In less than a year, the iPad has emerged as powerful platform for online retail -- and the poster child for a new class of mobile commerce. Many retailers report that over 50% of their mobile traffic is now coming from the popular tablet device…. Yet most retailers have a suboptimal multichannel experience that leaves considerable room for improvement.”

Retailers can make those improvements by considering how tablets work in a fundamentally different way from the previous generation of computers. Rather than the mouse-and-keyboard point-and-click model that rules PCs and laptops (also known as a graphical user interface), tablets use gestural interfaces, in which shoppers touch the screen directly with their finger or a stylus to input data. It’s an ideal format for consuming media, but many of those who grew up with PCs and laptops are working hard to transition from point-and-click to touch. Internet retailers who want to capture customers on tablets would do well to follow some of the best practices suggested by Taluca Budui and Jakob Nielsen at usability consultancy Nielsen Norman:

  • Buttons that look fine on laptops often turn out to be too small on tablets, making it more likely that customers will press the wrong buttons. Check the size of the buttons on tablets and adjust accordingly.
  • No one likes typing on tablets yet. Anything your store can do to keep the typing down makes customers more likely to complete their shopping cart.
  • Back buttons are important. If you’re using a shopping app rather than a browser (browsers have back buttons built in), make sure you include a back button to help customers get around easily.
  • Make sure it’s clear what is touchable. In many tablet apps, it’s not always clear which areas will respond when touched.
  • One common error with websites on tablets is what Nielsen Norman calls “read-tap asymmetry,” content that is large enough to read but too small to tap. If you want people to respond to what they’ve read (by, say, ordering), make it easy.

Are you making your online stores work better on tablets? Please let us know your best tips and we’ll pass them along.

About the author

Jimmy Guterman president of The Vineyard Group; previously he was senior editor of Harvard Business Review.

Jimmy Guterman

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FedEx.