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Poor tablet experiences are biggest mobile fail this holiday season

While both smartphone and tablet traffic to retailers’ Web sites is skyrocketing this holiday season, recent data from IBM reveals that tablet users present the bigger sales opportunity. However, by delivering full desktop versions of their Web pages to tablet users, retailers are giving these valuable customers a subpar experience and losing important sales opportunities.

“The common reason for high error rates is because they are not providing tablet-optimized sites,” said Aaron Rudger, Web performance evangelist at Keynote, San Mateo, CA. “Some retailers still serve up the desktop site, which is usually much heavier in content and this is a problem on Wi-Fi/3G networks, which most tablets are typically running on.”

Lack of preparation
The tablet market has been rapidly growing for several years, so it should not be news to retailers that tablet users tend to convert at higher rates than smartphones users and are bigger spenders.

The need for tablet-optimized experiences is also a well-established fact.

It is retailers’ failure to properly prepare for the expected surge in tablet shopping during the holidays that makes poor tablet experiences the biggest mobile failure so far this season.

While leading Internet retailers delivered a consistent level of performance over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, on Cyber Monday there were some performance issues.

High error rates
Sony Style tablet measurement began having a higher error rate on Cyber Monday than on the previous day, primarily attributed to timeouts at the three second mark.

One reason for the problems was that tablet users were getting the full desktop page served to them, which was 1.3 MBs of content.

Much of tablet shopping is done from home over a wireless network, which can result in timeouts when large desktop pages are served.

Best Buy’s tablet pages delivered a very high error rate on Cyber Monday due to timeouts. Again, the source of the problem can be traced back to desktop-optimized sites trying to load over a mobile network.

Best Buy’s smartphone site did not face similar issues.

Missed opportunities
Keynote also uncovered some smartphone and desktop performance issues on Cyber Monday.

For example, HP’s smartphone and desktop performance began slowing down significantly at 3 a.m. PST, particularly during the search process and “add to cart” steps.

Additionally, the performance of Office Depot’s smartphone site took a hit, but Keynote was not able to determine what the cause of the problem was.

Keynote compared the end-to-end shopping experience across desktop, tablet and smartphone screens,  measuring  transaction speeds to see how quickly a shopper can complete a purchase from the site for Cyber Monday.

Tablet users present an important sales opportunity for retailers despite there being fewer of them than smartphone users.

For example, while smartphones drove 20.2 percent of all online traffic on Cyber Monday, compared to 9.4 percent for tablets, the latter still drove more sales, according to IBM.

On Cyber Monday, tablets accounted for 10.1 percent of all online sales compared to just 6.3 percent for smartphones.

Tablet users also averaged $131.10 per order, versus smartphone users, who averaged $114.73 per order.

“The solution is to build a tablet-optimized site like responsive design which builds a site optimized for the three screens of desktop, tablet and smartphones,” Mr. Rudger said.

“If they can’t do that and are still going to use the desktop Web site, then make sure it’s slimmed down, as in reduce the amount of images/content being served, make sure the third party tools like Google Analytics, Facebook etc. load later, etc. so help speed up the load time,” he said.

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