Will Tablets Reinvent How We Shop Everywhere?

Jan 23, 2013

According to a new study from Adobe Systems, 55 percent of tablet owners reported they are using the device for buying products versus only 28 percent of smartphone users.

Comparing the two devices, 44 percent of tablet users indicated shopping was a typical activity they engaged in with their devices versus only 20 percent on smartphones, according to the 2013 Digital Publishing Report: Retail Apps & Buying Habits.

Regarding functions they used their devices for when shopping for products/services, tablet users were more highly active across categories.

These include:

  • Browsing (68 percent for tablet users versus 50 percent for smartphone users);
  • Comparing prices (64 percent versus 47 percent);
  • Comparing products (52 percent compared to 38 percent);
  • Reading product reviews (51 percent versus 37 percent);
  • Researching or reviewing products (50 percent versus 36 percent);
  • Searching for coupons or deals (46 percent compared to 37 percent);
  • Browsing catalogs (46 percent versus 18 percent);
  • Purchasing music or video content (25 percent versus 19 percent);
  • Purchasing tickets to events (24 percent versus 16 percent).

When asked what characteristics are most important for a shopping apps, interactive images and slideshows ranked particularly higher for tablets users at 49 percent. Smartphone users put more value on money saving offers (67 percent versus 52 percent for tablet users) as well as the ability to purchase from an app instead of a browser (58 percent versus 48 percent.)

But many of the findings around purchasing behavior among both devices were similar:

  • Fifty-six percent of smartphone shoppers and 60 percent of tablet shoppers are likely to make a purchase using an app in the next year;
  • Two-thirds (67 percent) of both tablet and smartphone shoppers only use apps from their favorite stores. The notion that app interactions strengthen connection to the brand was agreed to by 38 percent tablet shoppers and 42 percent smartphone shoppers;
  • When asked where the most influence over mobile purchasing decisions comes from, friends ranked first (88 percent for tablet users, 87 percent for smartphone users); followed by e-mails from company (71 percent, tablet; 69 percent, smartphone); online ads (tablet, 68 percent; smartphone, 67 percent); and Facebook (tablet, 52 percent; smartphone, 54 percent).

The study was based on a survey of 1,003 U.S. adults who own a tablet and/or a smartphone.

The study didn’t explore how many tablet users were actually using the device in the store. According to a survey early last year from Viacom, only 36 percent of U.S. tablet owners indicated they used their tablet in a store.

How are tablets changing shopping behavior online and in stores? What should retailers be doing to gain an advantage with consumers who use tablets as a shopping device?

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24 Comments on "Will Tablets Reinvent How We Shop Everywhere?"

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Shilpa Rao

Tablets offer a great form factor for shopping. However, not all retail shopping sites are optimized for tablets and smartphones, and now the new generation phablets. Retailers need to re-look at how they could optimize the site resolution/look and feel for these devices, making it easier for consumers to shop.

Joan Treistman

The article mentions that the survey did not address to what extent tablets are used for shopping in the store. Importantly the article does not reflect on how many see their tablet as a substitute computer (laptop or PC).

The abstract category of mobile device may include smartphones and tablets. But the consumer may differentiate them to a greater degree which can account for the differences reported in the shopping behavior. Shoppers may be replicating how they’ve used their computers for buying on tablets. Trying out new modes of shopping with their smartphones (e.g., in store) may still be considered distinctly smart phone appropriate by consumers.

We need some more understanding of the shopper’s frame of reference before using these data to project future behavior.

Debbie Hauss

Tablets are gaining ground. More and more shoppers have them and are using them for daily activities. This year at NRF, in particular, I noticed more show attendees using tablets instead of smartphones or PCs, than in the past.

Also, with the smaller tablet footprints, it will be easier for shoppers to use them while in the supermarket or department store.

Retailers should be looking into creating tablet-optimized apps that will welcome their customers and provide creative components and an easy way to complete their purchases.

J. Peter Deeb

The answers to these questions have been bandied around by all of the experts. Just doing some in house market research, my wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, all of whom use both devices, prefer the tablet because it is easier to use both in app and site selection. But most importantly—even to the 27 year old—it is much easier to READ and switch back and forth than the phones. Size does matter!

Ryan Mathews

Retailers need to realize that customers are increasingly channel and platform agnostic. The “and” here is critical. If you worry too much about channels, you’ll misplace your bets. Ditto with devices and platforms.

Tablets are just the latest variation on a much larger theme. Retailers need to either carefully pick their battles or learn how to be as ubiquitous as the consumer.

Ian Percy

One thing for sure: shopping isn’t fun anymore.

Adrian Weidmann

Tablets are transforming both sides of the aisle—for shoppers and retailers/sales associates. The tablet provides immediate and relevant access to information. Information that both of the aisle value and need to respond to the digitally connected shopper.

Tablets offer a form factor that balances mobility, legibility and usability. With the ever increasing use of video as the preferred and most effective communication medium, the tablet is the perfect display to convey the medium right at the point of interaction between the shopper and the product, the person and the brand. Tablets are being deployed by brands that use ‘mobile’ sales representatives.

The ability to convey a consistent brand message with the correct product imagery, availability, etc. across the entire sales territory is invaluable for these personal interactions.

Doug Fleener

I find that the majority of my tablet shopping is within apps and not on websites. So my advice is to have a dedicated tablet (iPad) app. Second, make your store experience so amazing that people will close the app and come to the store.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

A surprising finding to me is the preference for using an app from a favorite store. What a great way to generate loyalty. However, you need to make sure that app is available on all devices so those consumers have a seamless experience with your company.

Ken Lonyai

First, it’s interesting to see the hard push Adobe is making in mobile after being a little late to the game and after being smacked upside the head by Mr. Jobs.

We’ve had around a century or so of catalog shopping before the first retail web site came to be. Flipping pages and then later clicking through pages is an entrenched behavior from catalog shopping and book reading. Phones don’t make it easy to do, so it’s no surprise that tablets act as a sort of compromise between paper and digital, far better than a small mobile device can do. I believe that phones are more of a field level shopping device while tablets are a more natural form factor for use in a coffee shop or curled up on the sofa, something even a laptop isn’t comfortable for. So until form factors change again—and they will and until touch screens are replaced by newer interface methods (soon), the tablet is going to trump the phone for overall browsing comfort.

Retailers that realize this current paradigm and adapt to it will gain the most benefit, but retail is still slow to recognize what technology can do and how to utilize it quickly.

Ed Rosenbaum

While I can see tablets becoming more popular; I do not see them becoming the device that this promotes. I can’t help having this image of shoppers walking through stores with their devices; similar to the business world twenty years ago, carrying their notebook and scheduler.
However, if the world of shoppers wants to carry and shop from their tablets, retailers will slowly find the way to allow it to happen. Emphasis on the word “slowly.”

Mark Burr
4 years 8 months ago
Let’s be clear, what is occurring is a transition in device or portal rather than a change in overall activity. The change in behavior was already well underway and has been for some time. However, “for some time” has a whole different meaning due to the rapid change in technology. Just in this past year, I’ve transitioned to a tablet and a smartphone myself. Yes, I jumped from the 1990s to current and was way behind. Nevertheless, the transition has been fun and exciting. I rarely disagree with Mr. Percy, but shopping is more fun than ever! Why? I’m more exposed to more retailers than ever before. Some are local—some are online only. There has never in the past been so much access to the customer for retailers or so much access for customers to many more retailers. The opportunity to be found by a customer is much more likely, and to be found FAST! The trend or market for online shopping as a revolution was already past its infancy. These devices are simply changing the way it is done. It is an evolution in the revolution. The challenge for retailers is how they respond to it. The challenge is… Read more »
Zel Bianco

Tablets should improve shopping behavior due to the ease and accessibility of shopping. More retailers should take advantage of the tablet technology by having their own apps. A website is great to shop when you are on a computer; but when using a tablet it is so much easier to browse and navigate an app than a website.

Retailers should take advantage of this technology; eventually it will become the norm to offer a tablet app. And perhaps retailers should think about app-only specials as they currently do for their websites. This could draw more traffic and introduce the apps to consumers.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
4 years 8 months ago

Are they changing anything? I believe that tablet users are laptop users. The question is “buying online.” Tablets and laptops, though portable, tend to be used by stationary users, while phones tend to be used while in motion and in remote locations. Tough to shop while you are walking or driving.

Smartphones are dangerous enough already without turning them into full fledged shopping tools. I have yet to see anyone in a store referencing a laptop for price comparison or buying advice. The tablet is by and large a more convenient laptop, it has taken over many of the functions that the laptop took over from the desktop.

Retailers can take advantage of online shopping by being competitive on price and excelling with service. If you are online and not really competing, you will hurt your foot traffic. If you can’t compete, then get off line.

Sid Raisch
Sid Raisch
4 years 8 months ago

They way SOME people buy is changing rapidly. Apps are the key to future access to an increasing share of consumer and business buyers.

gordon arnold

Tablets are still a bit to clumsy and oversized for use in most retail environments. This is especially true in the markets where the items being purchased require the use of both hands and one person, and device storage facilities access is limited to pocket sized instrumentation making tablets an obstruction. The incorporation of shoulder carry bags still restricts freedom of mobility and range of manipulating large/oversize items of purchased inventory.

I suspect that real estate requirements and power consumption for IT hardware will continue to decline exponentially for some time to come. If this is so, we will see large improvements in hand-held device scope and communication capabilities. Cloud computing and all of its messy security issues will ultimately give way to very small, high-speed, permanent storage I/O devices that are wireless user accessible for quick upgrades at a physically secured home/location, while additionally being guarded with hardware and software tamper proofing like firewalls and VPNs.

I am not predicting an end to tablet use for many of the reasons discussed here. I do however see smaller devices expanding for those consumers in need or on the hunt for product and services.

James Tenser

If there ever was an instance of “the medium is the message,” tablets are it. Their tactile mode of interaction, image quality and scale, and untethered connectivity creates a unique formula for shopping. Yes, PCs and smart phones each share some of these traits, but not all of them, and that is the difference.

Of course, shoppers don’t analyze the mediated retail experience much. (Only us BrainTrust retail nerd types do.) I think most folks experience tablets on an emotional, instinctive level and do what comes naturally. It’s up to merchants to try to address those behaviors with relevant interactive options.

Tread lightly in this regard. Preferences change in a heartbeat, so it can be a mistake to try to corral shoppers using custom apps. Nimble is better than powerful; responsive is better than proprietary; rapid life-cycles are better than sunk costs.

Herb Sorensen

Other than focusing on the Convergence of Online, Mobile and Bricks (COMB) shopping, studies like this are close to worthless because “[They] didn’t explore how many tablet users were actually using the device in the store.” Not only are the numbers seriously exaggerated, but they skew the discussion, particularly among the “low information” members of the industry—a HUGE and influential crowd. This crowd then creates a residual meme of BS that plagues the industry for many years, as the rubes slowly come to realize that it is mostly BS.

It isn’t BS because there is no underlying basis for it, but because that basis is exaggerated by orders of magnitude, so the people running the stores soon learn to file that info into file 13. This erodes the credibility of the commentariat.

Matt Schmitt

Retailers are rapidly adapting e-commerce and in-store tactics to address the growing influence of tablets. Websites are now undergoing design changes to better accommodate tablet users and to facilitate easier e-commerce shopping.

Also, I expect retailers to use tablets for in-store digital applications as well. This includes customer-facing apps as well as employee apps for assisted sales. The in-store usage is requiring mobile device management solutions to be incorporated into the enterprise. And the consumer market is driving a proliferation of options and price attractiveness.

Mark Price

Essentially, tablets are becoming mini-computers that are truly portable. Consumers not only surf them while at home and watching TV or reading before bed, but also take them into stores and with them on the road. The larger real estate on a tablet and the easier interface make them ideal interfaces for comparison shopping and other e-commerce activities.

Retailers MUST build web interfaces that optimize the tablet, making the site not just a smaller version of the web site, but instead streamlining functions to make it easy for consumers to quickly conduct their activities (research, customer service, purchases) in a pleasurable format.

Ralph Jacobson

iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, iPhone maxi. Seriously? Yes, the consumer market will settle with a favorite phone size, and the tablet will kill the folding laptop… eventually.

Merchants will need to be agile until form and platform settles into the winning combo. That will be very soon. I say less than 18 months.

Vahe Katros

“Second Screen” (see below) solutions and apps appeared in Silicon Valley incubators just after the release of the iPad and no doubt retailers are now being pitched on synchronized TV/tablet experiences by agencies.

Creative integration could be an important source of differentiation so don’t leave it up to outside firms.

Retailers will benefit if they bake their solutions to meet the needs of the couch potato.

From Wikipedia: Second screen, sometimes also referred to as “companion device” (or “companion apps” when referring to a software applications), is a term that refers to an additional electronic device (e.g. tablet, smartphone) that allows a television audience to interact with the content they are consuming, such as TV shows, movies, music, or video games. Extra data is displayed on a portable device synchronized with the content being viewed on television.

Alexander Rink
4 years 8 months ago

Wow, great question with limitless possibilities. As the article mentions, tablets are being increasingly used to browse, price compare and shop online, which makes it critical for retailers to ensure they have a mobile optimal site (it is very frustrating to go to a retailer’s website on an iPad and find it to be flash-based). Aside from making the website more mobile-friendly, it is important to make it (even more) visually appealing, not to mention friendly to touch gestures.

Tablets are also changing the way retailers can interact with consumers in-store. For example, a women’s clothing retailer in our neighbourhood has placed iPads in all of its changing rooms. This not only allows them to use it for digital advertising, but also for browsing other types of clothes and exposing them to added selection while they are waiting. Other potential uses for tablets in-store include viewing product specifications, reading reviews, conducting price comparison, requesting price matching, selecting product, locating desired products in the store, requesting service, ordering products, signing up for retailer programs, checking purchase history—as I said, the possibilities are limitless, and are absolutely revolutionizing the future of shopping!

Christopher Krywulak
Christopher Krywulak
4 years 8 months ago

It’s obvious that tablets are a better form factor to shop upon than a smartphone. While it’s obvious that retailers must optimize their mobile websites to facilitate browsing, comparison and checkout, a less obvious advantage is equipping salespeople with tablets and/or offering large mounted touchscreens/kiosks within the store itself.

Because of the increased popularity of shopping via tablet at home or on the go, these in-store offerings are natural options for self-service or assisted in-store browsing—essentially bringing online/mobile browsing technology into the physical store.


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