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Proof that tablets are here to stay

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As quickly as retailers were asking themselves how to optimize for those tiny little smartphone screens, along came tablet devices with – comparatively speaking – oceans of space to fill. Plus, it turns out, consumers use their tablet and smart phone devices for different purposes and in different ways. Little surprise, then, that designing for tablet devices is a distinct discipline, as mobile veteran Stephen Burke of Resource Interactive explained in the First Look Track “Designing with the Tablet Consumer in Mind” session.

Given the burgeoning tablet device user base, companies are clamoring to give these customers a great tablet experience: Burke noted that Resource Interactive delivered 65 tablet device-related projects just in the last year, serving CPG and retail clients such as Kohl’s, Sherwin-Williams, and Limited Brands. Burke cited research showing that:

  • 7% of total online sales on Christmas Day 2011 came from Apple iPads specifically, according to IBM Coremetrics. iPads also drove 6% of all mobile online traffic the very next day (December 26, 2011). Their purchase conversion rate? A whopping 4.6% - “almost double the average mobile conversion rate of 2.8%.”
  • Looking ahead, 20% of US consumers say they intend to buy a tablet device in the next six months. For men and adults aged 31 to 40 years old, that’s more like 23% and 24%, respectively. Even among US consumers aged 51 to 60, that’s 21% (just try prying the iPad out of the hands of Burke’s 63-year-old relative who never used her smartphone for anything but phone calls).

What’s interesting about the tablet device, Burke also noted, is that – with the exception of older users – the tablet device is not a replacement for other devices such as the computer at home. Also, Burke pointed to research showing that a high percentage of people who read e-books prefer to use a tablet device for that purpose, prompting Burke to somewhat tongue in cheek characterize e-books as “the gateway drug to tablet dependence.”

“Couch commerce” is really here.  According to Equation Research for Zmags, 70% of tablet usage is at home – specifically, either on the couch or in bed. Consumers use the smart phone and computer to get specific tasks done quickly, whereas tablet device users are “couch browsing” (attributable to Fred Cavazza of Forbes). Ultimately, the tablet is a “leisure device” - albeit one that is starting to drive real commerce.

4 Primary Tablet Device Design Principles.
“Smartphone design is more like fitting a size 12 foot into a size 10 shoe,” Burke joked. By contrast, tablet design is about using the depth and breadth of what a tablet offers – so much so that, “the conversation between agency and client is different.” Overall, Burke isn’t convinced that there’s a vast difference between a good tablet device design and good Web site design – but there are some key tablet design principles to observe:

  • Make it engaging. Realize it must be a fun, engaging, immersive experience. “It’s like touching a stained glass window and watching it come to life,” Burke explained. In general, tablet consumers will engage repeatedly before making their considered purchase. Overall, you’ll want to use less text on a tablet, and instead use more imagery and short video.
  • Make it share-able. The tablet device itself is often shared within a family. Tapping social media, the tablet also “makes it easy to share ideas, thoughts, and even products” with others.
  • Make it shoppable. “The tablet is with people for an extended period of time in a low pressure way.” In traditional web design, “you limit the number of available windows and doors” in order to get people to the cart and to check out quickly. As a highly visual medium, retailers can offer lots of content to “engage and woo” the customer while still (gently) leading him or her to the actual purchase.
  • Make it extendable. “The tablet provides a vehicle for brand stories and product immersion.” Retailers should think about digitizing and then making available on the tablet all kinds of analog content that they already own, such as assets such as circulars, a video highlighting a designer that the retailer is launching – the possibilities go on.

As one example of tablet design, Burke pointed to the Sherwin-Williams “ColorSnap” product and how that evolved from the initial smartphone (iPhone) app to the iPad app that features large, rich imagery that allows users to explore and interact.

Burke suggested that retailers also look into the concept of “Responsive Design”, by which the company uses a universal codebase and set of logic to automatically adapt the content to recognize the device and operating system that the customer is using (for example, the system would perhaps remove two or three items from a tablet design in order to render a good smart phone display).