Tablets Poised To Overtake Smartphones As Shopping Device Of Choice

When we talk about devices in mobile marketing, most marketers’ thoughts still jump directly to smartphones. And for good reason. They’re cheaper and more portable than tablets (at least when subsidized by the carriers), and smartphones are a consumer’s constant companion. They also account for the largest market share of mobile devices.

According to a recent industry survey 56% of adult Americans have a smartphone, while 35% of US citizens over the age of 16 own a tablet device. And if patterns established during past holiday seasons continue — even to a lesser extent as the market becomes saturated — the number of tablets in circulation are likely to grow after people open their Christmas presents.


But even though there are fewer tablets than smartphones in the hands of consumers, it looks like these devices are beginning to play a much larger role in mobile conversions than many marketers might have guessed.

Tablets Draw Even When It Comes To Sales

A new report, hot off the pixel presses of Business Insider, indicates that tablets now “draw even” or account for 50% of U.S. retail sales completed on mobile devices. So, though tablets are a smaller market share, they are a mightier revenue-generating engine for the digital channel, when compared to smartphones.


What’s also interesting is that that the average age and income of a tablet user is higher overall. According to Pew, most tablets users are in their thirties and forties with an above-average income. For many brands, this is the sweet spot, demographically.

So, what are some of the key differences between user’s behavior on tablet vs. smartphone and how does it influence purchase?

It seems to be that consumers use tablets for high level research, much like they do with a smartphone, when hunting for the best price or looking for specific product details. But, they also complete the purchase on the tablet in the same browsing session which consumers don’t always do when “show-rooming” on a smartphone.

It also appears as if tablet users prefer a web browsing experience as opposed to a native app. This puts even more pressure on brands that haven’t yet optimized their desktop experiences for the mobile environment in general, let alone tablets specifically, to evolve their on-line customer experience quickly.

Fine-Tune The Mobile-First Design Approach

For designers, UX specialists and digital strategists working in the retail sector, this trend seems to indicate the need to fine-tune the mobile-first design approach. Businesses should place an increased focus on the web-browser-based environment for the tablet format as opposed to a native-app-based smartphone concentration.

What this means to me as a Creative and an influencer of UX design, is that the key focus of a well-designed and successful user experience for this emerging market is one that facilitates smooth, seamless browsing behaviors. Ease of search, swipe-ability of pages and the ability to pinch and zoom in on a selection for more detail is crucial. And of course, as in design for smartphones, Flash usage and Frames are to be avoided. These seem to be the biggest turn-offs for users and largest impediments to accessing content.

The message is clear. With the money flowing over to a tablet-based shopping and purchasing environment, retail marketers ignore mobile optimization their peril.

Stock photo via iStock, licensed to Responsys.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Apple: iPad | Channel: Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing | Mobile Marketing Column | Top News


About The Author: is a Creative Director with Responsys — a technology company with a focus on cross-channel digital direct marketing solutions. Over the last seven years she has created campaign for leading brands, which have been recognized industry wide for their high creative standards and campaign performance.

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  • Samuel @ ReferralCandy

    Hi Lynn, thanks for posting this piece of research. From personal usage, I guess this doesn’t come as a surprise, seeing how many businesses do not have well-designed mobile-optimised sites, if any at all. Tablets have an advantage here, as their interface is much more similar to the desktop/laptop interface.

    You also raised a good point about the demographics of tablet owners. I do think this is fairly important in our understanding of the usage of tablets in mobile purchases.

    However, seeing that there are still much more smartphone than tablet users, it might be more beneficial if businesses optimise their sites for smartphones instead of shifting to tablets. The usage of smartphones will probably always be higher than tablets, and it might still be more efficient, even in the long run, to cater to smartphone users. That’s just my two cents.

  • Lynn Baus

    Thanks Samuel, agreed I don’t think we should ignore smart phones. But I also think that the tablet form factor has many advantages over smart phones that make them uniquely posed to drive conversions and that’s what has really caught my attention. But what I’m actually aiming for is a more touch-friendly experience that’s optimized for a smaller screen when presenting digital content to users.

    An interesting trend that I noticed as I was spending time with family over the holidays is that some people in the older demographics, who don’t own smart phones, do own a tablet of some type and use it regularly. So we may be seeing even larger variation in users experiences as technologies evolve. It’s something to pay special attention to if your product or service falls into a niche. Probably worth investing in a bit of research before setting the mobile strategy in place for design and development.

  • Samuel @ ReferralCandy

    Yes, I agree. I think it’s hard to accurately predict how things will play out with smartphones and tablets, but the one definite thing is that users are bringing a lot more of their purchases off from laptops and desktops, and more on to mobile devices.

    The point you brought up about the older demographics using tablets makes sense; the much bigger screen real estate certainly helps users navigate better!

    As you mentioned about a business’ product / service falling into a particular niche, it’s important then that businesses look into their own browsing data and see which platforms are more popular amongst their consumers. Moving forward with some data is better than none.


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