How businesses can reach the growing tablet market

Tablets are changing the way we play games and watch video, but they’re also changing the way we shop and execute transactions. That was illustrated this week in a new report from Forrester Research that found that sales from tablets already account for 20 percent of mobile commerce sales, despite the fact that just 9 percent of shoppers own tablets. In other words, businesses looking to sell goods and services through the Internet must move now to address that growing market.

As Forrester’s Sucharita Mulpuru writes, three important factors are driving usage: tablets have larger, more navigable screens than phones; they can support richer, more engaging apps; and they can be used both at home and on the go.

“Everyone thinks that mobile phones and mobile commerce are the next big things, and I think what this data shows is it’s probably actually tablets,” Mulpuru said in the New York Times. “We have always capped e-commerce at 10 to 15 percent of total retail sales, but this potentially has the capability of really expanding e-commerce much beyond that.” Indeed, the simplicity and functionality of tablets may actually help boost e-commerce among consumers who currently rarely (or never) buy online.

To take full advantage of this early trend, though, retailers and other advertisers will have to innovate in a few key areas:

On the web

It’s true that most traditional Internet content renders reasonably well on most tablets, but retailers looking to target tablet users should consider building sites that make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for with just a few gestures. And because Apple’s iPad is still king of the tablets, they should forgo Flash entirely. A good example is the tablet-optimized version of, which provides a vast amount of information through a tasteful display.

Through applications

As Mulpuru notes, tablet apps can support interactive features like page-flipping and audio recognition that can actually make shopping simple, fun, and productive. Retailers should consider producing their own branded app as well as leveraging third-party apps and online social networks., for instance, offers a free iPad app that enables users to shop through catalogs from dozens of stores by swiping; it also allows them to save products to their personal catalogs with a tap.

In search

Tablets account for 14 percent of paid mobile search impressions, according to data released last week from Performics, and they generate 1.7 percent of all paid search impressions — a number that’s growing steadily. So advertisers should take advantage of offerings like Google’s new tablet-targeting options, which enable them to include “tablets with full browsers” on the list of devices they want to receive their ads. And they should design their campaigns to reach as many tablet users as possible — for instance, by presenting paid search ads between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., the times that accounted for 81 percent of tablet use in the Performics study.

In the store

While many of us use smartphone apps like ShopSavvy to get product information and price comparisons on the floor or retail locations, sales of 3G-enabled tablets has lagged, because carrier data plans are so pricey. Retailers should consider catering to the tablet crowd by investing in free Wi-Fi that enables shoppers to use their devices as the connected gadgets they’re designed to be. (The U.K. grocer Tesco said this week that it will pursue this strategy, rolling out Wi-Fi in 2,700 outlets.) A branded portal could greet users who access the network, and the Wi-Fi could also be used by store salespeople toting tablets to present detailed product information to shoppers with a couple of clicks.

Owners of the iPad — which remains the dominant tablet in the space — are a demographic dream, according to ComScore. And the number of tablet-toting shoppers will grow as device shipments top 50 million this year and continue to grow. Retailers who don’t invest wisely now will end up losing a very important — and very lucrative — chunk of the overall mobile commerce market.

Question of the week

What are some other ways retailers can target the growing tablet market?