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How big will tablet commerce be during the holidays?

The tablet market has grown significantly in the past 12 months and will play a much bigger role this holiday season compared to last year.

Because images and content display better on a tablet and are easier to view than on a phone screen, consumers are engaging with tablet devices for shopping in growing numbers, finding them to be a great way to sit on the couch and shop. As a result, the biggest driver of the growth in tablet shopping this year is likely to be the number of consumers who now own tablets.

“More people will certainly be shopping on tablets as now more people have tablets than they did a year ago,” Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst of ebusiness and retail at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the volume of revenue through tablets doubles this holiday season,” she said.

Tablet commerce grows
Recent research from IBM showed that the growth in mobile sales outpaced online sales growth during the back-to-school shopping season, with tablets driving a good portion of the growth. The impact of tablets is likely to be felt during the upcoming holiday season as well (see story).

To take advantage of the growth in tablet shopping, some retailers are coming out with new tablet experiences or updating their existing ones in time for the holidays.

“Last year, we were all still in the experimental phase, so many tablet experiences focused simply on getting something launched,” said Chris Mason, CEO of Branding Brand, Pittsburgh, PA. “This year, there is more of a focus on creating a fluid transactional experience on tablets and mobile devices in general.

“Good examples of this can be found in the work of Sephora over the last year,” he said. “Their efforts in-store have made it easier for consumers to create appointments, pinpoint products with Pantone and gain easy access to product reviews.

“We see there being steady and rapid increase in tablet commerce sales this year. Many retailers will find that more than 10 percent of their consumers are buying products via tablets.”


In-store shopping
One big push will be in using tablets to enhance the in-store shopping experience.

“Savvy retailers are creating tablet experiences that extend to the in-store experience,” Mr. Mason said. “Tablets are not just for the couch — as Apple has shown, they also are great vehicles for enhancing the in-store experience.

“Consumers should see more and more retailers using tablets for the purposes of enhancing the shopping experience,” he said. “Twenty percent of our clients are looking to do something in the fourth quarter related to tablets, which is a dramatic increase off last year where only a handful of national retailers had a tablet experience.”

Sephora is not the only retailer enhancing its tablet experience.

This month Sears Canada Sears Canada is readying itself for the holiday season by updating its wish list iPad application based on feedback from customers.

Key changes include enabling users to pinch and zoom content, reducing the app to 50 megabytes to keep content manageable for consumers and giving users the ability to use Wi-Fi to only view portions of the app instead of having to download the entire app.

Other new features include the ability to personalize search results, bookmark pages throughout the app and share content via Facebook, email and Twitter (see story).

Next year
Retailers are discovering that many consumers prefer to shop online via a tablet more than a smartphone and even more than on desktop. This is because compared to smartphones, tablets give consumers more screen real estate for browsing. Users are also embracing the ability to sit on the couch and shop via a tablet while they watch TV.

Tablet shoppers also tend to be an attractive audience for retailers. Catalogue, a tablet shopping app that features catalogs from many leading brands such as Crate and Barrel, Eddie Bauer and Williams Sonoma reports that the demographics on both iPad and Kindle Fire skew towards the more affluent shopper, as 65 percent of these users have an income of more than $100k.

While there are expected to be more retail experiences on tablets this year, this is still early days for tablets and it may not be until next year that tablet’s full potential as a shopping tool will be felt on retailers’ sales.

“There are some companies like TheFind that have their Catalogue app, but other than that, I don’t know of too many retailers that are creating unique experiences just for the tablet,” Forrester’s Ms. Mulpuru said.

“It seems that companies that are smart focus on phones and tablets first and then that covers the desktop experience,” she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York