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The Next Game Changer

Posted on 2.09.2012

This is an interesting time in the history of digital experiences, marked by the post-desktop era that is just ramping up. Tablet sales are expected to continue to soar, and Forrester estimates that one-third of online consumers will be using a tablet by 2015.

This presents a unique opportunity for retailers, as comScore reports that nearly half of today’s tablet owners have made purchases on their devices. The practice now known as t-commerce is taking off, and retailers had better take note.

The Tablet Experience

When today’s companies work to design their mobile strategies and the topic of tablets comes up, a big question often focuses on whether to offer tablet users a mobile or desktop browsing experience. The answer is neither. Tablets warrant a unique experience — whether you are considering sites, applications or even in-store installations. Shopping on a tablet is fundamentally different from shopping on smartphones or desktops. Consumers use tablets because they provide a highly immersive, high-touch experience and have an interface that makes it easy to browse the Internet without being constrained to a desk.

Tablets essentially bridge the gap between the desktop and the smartphone, creating a context-sensitive and personalized experience regardless of one’s location. Tablets merge the best features of both platforms with larger screens and location- and context-based awareness, making Internet surfing and purchasing easy and enjoyable. Tablet users can also find related items based on search or purchasing history, unlike on smaller-screened smartphone devices.

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Many luxury retailers, in particular, are already capitalizing on the tablet platform by creating tailored experiences for users – making their products available for purchase in this channel and developing additional context around their offerings. The Look Book, for example, is a unique way that retailers can push more editorial content to consumers. With the larger screen, users can view a completed fashion “look” not otherwise possible with smartphones.

Make no mistake: Smartphones will continue to play a meaningful role in ecommerce, but tablets are beginning to overshadow traffic that was traditionally seen only from desktops.

Tablet as a Sales Tool

Brands are not only ramping up their tablet strategies from a digital perspective, but retailers are also leveraging the popular devices for clientele services and loyalty building by equipping their sales forces with tablets. Employees now have real-time access to a client’s purchase history and brand preference — basically a digitized version of Nordstrom’s popular “little black book.”

Retailers who arm their sales forces with these tools will redefine customer relationships by improving their understanding of each individual consumer. This ultimately helps drive more intimate relationships with customers, enabling brands to upsell and cross-sell based on their known preferences.

Tablet devices also expedite the stocking and checkout processes, as consumers can simply approach any store associate to complete a purchase. Apple is already ahead of this trend, leveraging the iPod touch in its stores to facilitate checkouts.

Tablets will go beyond a sales tool in the future, however. Virtual fitting rooms will enable consumers to snap a photo and upload it to a tablet to model a variety of outfit and fabric combinations – all without even stepping foot into a store’s physical location. Augmented reality technology even gives consumers the option to hold a tablet to their wrist to view a watch or piece of jewelry. Early adopters are already leveraging this technology, but it is still a few years from mass adoption in the marketplace.

When developing mobile strategies, it is important to recognize the tablet experience as something different. Do your research to understand your audience and plan accordingly. Find out where, when and why users are accessing your website and track the mobile device activity on your current site. If you are seeing more visitors from tablet devices, it is definitely worthwhile to implement a plan to deliver a more customized experience for these individuals.

About the Author: Tom Nawara is vice president of digital strategy and design at Acquity Group. He oversees the strategic direction and tactical execution of key client initiatives in a variety of digital areas, including content and collaboration, commerce, digital marketing, social media and mobile.

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