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FEATURE

Online Shopping Tablet Style

Tablets aren't just for watching movies and reading books anymore - they're becoming popular online shopping tools for consumers who crave the look-and-feel of catalogs, but the convenience of web commerce.

Kristi Essick
October 28 , 2012

The iPad was the hottest holiday gift last year. This holiday, the iPad may the hottest way to shop for gifts. Tablets are becoming popular devices for online shopping, displacing PCs as the ultimate e-commerce device.

More than 70 million Americans are expected to own a tablet by the end of this year, and more and more people are using their tablets to shop online. With their visual interface, interactive shopping apps, and touch screens, tablets provide consumers with a catalog-like shopping experience. Many retail tablet apps let shoppers scroll through glossy images of products, change colors, create outfits, see prices, and add things to carts with a quick swipe of the finger, and others add social elements, wish lists, games, and other interactive elements. What's more, tablet apps often present a curated selection of items, making tablet shopping a more enticing (and less frustrating) experience than standard e-commerce sites that offer thousands of products across hundreds of pages.

"I'm not much of a shopper, but I've found I buy more books and other items on my Kindle Fire than I ever did before," said Gonzalo Moreno, a software engineer who lives in San Francisco. "The tablet just makes it easier to buy the things I like."

Consumers also shop differently on tablets than they do online. People who shop on tablets tend to do so while relaxing on a sofa or in bed, so they end up spending more and shopping more often than website shoppers. According to the recent 2012 Forrester State of Retailing Online report, 49% of retailers reported that tablet shoppers spend more per order than people shopping from computers or smart phones. The report also noted that 2.4% of tablet shoppers complete transactions, compared to just 1% of smartphone shoppers.

"Tablets have the ability to drive more impulse purchases than desktops, as consumers are less likely to be spearfishing for specific products and instead are open to discovering new products," the Forrester report said.

Because of these trends, retailers are investing heavily in creating tablet-based shopping apps. Retailers plan to invest on average $207K on tablet apps in 2012, compared to just $55K spent in 2011.

Retailers large and small have already seen a surge in sales from their tablet apps.

Apparel company Kenneth Cole has launched over 10 ‘tablet catalogs', including interactive apps that allow shoppers to create custom outfits or buy an entire outfit shown in the catalog with one tap. The company recently said in an article that tablet shoppers spend three times longer browsing than web shoppers do, and that sales from tablets already make up 4% of catalog revenue.

Catalogs generate $270 billion per year in sales in the U.S. alone, according to the American Catalog Mailers Association, so even if tablet shopping takes just a fraction of those sales, it will account for billions in sales in years to come. No wonder startups that help retailers create tablet shopping apps have sprung up, including Revel Touch, Zmags, CoffeTable, and Ceros.

Revel Touch has created tablet shopping apps for brands such as Oriental Trading Company, Anthropologie, Design Within Reach, Lucky Magazine and many other retail brands. For example, the company recently launched an iPad app for Oriental Trading Company that includes all 40,000 of the catalog retailer's items and maps to its existing ecommerce systems.

Zmags is one of the largest tablet app companies, with over 3,000 retailer customers including Neiman Marcus, Express, Acura, Costco, The Container Store, Office Depot, and Sears. The company's CEO Michael Schreck said in a recent article that while retailers will undoubtedly continue to invest in their websites, he believes the e-commerce future will belong to tablets for two reasons: because tablets will become primary computing devices at home and on the road, and because websites have gone as far as they can in terms of e-commerce innovation.

To get consumers to move beyond using the web as a utility to search for the best prices, retailers will have "to create an experience that leverages all of the offline merchandising creativity, the frictionless elements of offline, and then add the benefits of online—instantaneous, touch, immediate satisfaction, and price confidence," said Schreck. Tablets are the best way to do that right now, he added.

E-commerce changed the way consumers shop by turning the web into one giant store. But as the rise in tablet shopping has shown, sometimes people don't want to trawl through hundreds of web pages looking for the best deal. They just want to sit on their couch and browse through a well-designed catalog.

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