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Do Walmart, Macy’s And Target Even Know Tablets Exist?

September 26th, 2012

But the unwillingness of so many big retailers to cater to tablet-using customers is puzzling. Particularly surprising is eBay, which on Monday (Sept. 24) announced it has reached the milestone of 100 million listings via mobile, as well as 100 million downloads of its app. But eBay served up the same mobile site on our test tablet as on a phone.

Is it because chains expect customers to download their apps? That’s not a safe assumption. True, customers can easily install and delete free retailer apps. But that takes time, and just a little bit of commitment that shouldn’t be necessary for a bit of online shopping. Imagine telling in-store customers, “We’ll let you in, but our associates won’t treat you like a first-class customer unless you join our loyalty program.” Again, that’s a great way to drive new customers away (unless you’re Costco or Sam’s Club, in which case you won’t even let them in unless they join).

Do M-Commerce developers assume that it’s enough to have a link to the full-scale site? That they can afford to annoy customers the first time, but once a customer has clicked through to the full-size site it’s enough to remember that so the customer will never see the minimal mobile site again? That is the way many mobile sites and mobile browsers work. But because the mobile versions of most chains’ sites begin with “m.” or “mobile.” it’s easy enough for customers to find the minimal site. Why risk annoying the customer at all?

Or maybe most chains figure it’s safer to lump tablets in with phones than with PCs. That may be exactly the wrong way to split the market.

After all, those minimal mobile sites have always been a pretty terrible compromise. The list-o’-links design approach makes it possible for users to click on a tiny touchscreen, but that’s all. No marketer would choose to serve up such simplified sites, on which almost no products are on display and where it’s impractical to highlight most promotions. (Need proof? Those are exactly the things your marketing people stuff your full-size homepage with: promotions and pictures of products.)

That means getting away from minimal sites is exactly what M-Commerce developers should be doing, and not just for tablet users. Phone screens are steadily getting bigger—with each passing month, a random M-Commerce customer’s phone is more likely to be able to handle a full-size site. Meanwhile, half of customers in the U.S. and western Europe are already using smartphones, and much of that growth is at the low end, with users trading up from feature phones.

So while new smartphone users are flowing into traditional, minimal M-Commerce sites at the low end, high-end phones are ready to leave minimal sites behind, and tablets are already there. In short, the split between “mobile” and “regular” Web sites is no longer lined up with mobile devices vs. PCs. It’s all about screen size—and, increasingly, M-Commerce will involve big screens for customers with the most money to spend.

Eventually that will mean doing the little extra work necessary to identify tablet and big-screen phone users. Serving them an appropriate Web site will then become the standard.

In the meantime, it looks like an instant advantage for almost any chain that does it.


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2 Comments | Read Do Walmart, Macy’s And Target Even Know Tablets Exist?

  1. alewisdesign Says:

    Anyone heard of “responsive web design”? We’ve been talking about this and trying to solve this specific problem. I don’t know why ecommerce has not jumped on board. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple years, read this http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

  2. Jason Goldberg Says:

    Good stuff Frank, I totally agree with your point about retailers not being prepared for tablet visitors.

    I noticed that those same retailers (Target, Macys, Walmart) all send iPad traffic to the Desktop version of the their sites.

    It seems to me that both are bad approaches. Sending iPads users to a desktop site (that expects hoover-over to work for super menu’s, quickview,etc… ) sucks, as does sending them to a smartphone optimized site. Either way, retailers have a lot of room to improve their experience for the tablet users.

    One interesting note is that while Android tablets have a fair amount of hardware marketshare (especially if you include Kindles), they don’t seem to have great share as a percentage of browsers visiting e-commerce sites. This study found that 98 of the tablet browsers on websites are iPads http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/09/27/apple-ipad-dominates-tablet-based-web-browsing-with-98-share-report-says and even if that data seems a bit far fetched I can tell you that most of my e-commerce clients see the overwhelming bulk of their tablet traffic coming from iPads. Android tablet users just don’t seem to be browsing the web as often.

    For what it’s worth, sending Android tablets to Mobile while iPads are going to the Desktop pages may be lazy programming rather than a strategy. Google made a very poor decision to make the Android Tablet user agent very similar to the Andorid Mobile user agent, so many programmers don’t notice the difference.

    Example Useragent for android mobile
    mozilla/5.0_(linux;_u;_android_2.3.5;_en-us;_n860_build/gingerbread)_applewebkit/533.1_(khtml,_like_gecko)_version/4.0_mobile_safari/533.1

    Example Useragent for android tablet
    mozilla/5.0_(linux;_u;_android_3.1;_en-us;_gt-p7510_build/hmj37)_applewebkit/534.13_(khtml,_like_gecko)_version/4.0_safari/534.13

    So you are supposed to follow this advice to detect Android Tablet devices from Google: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/03/mo-better-to-also-detect-mobile-user.html

    but many developers don’t know about it.

    Another interesting related issue is that redirecting users to a “m.” site vs. a “www.” is a horrible practice for a mobile device anyway. Imagine you are in a Target and you see a cool new bedroom set that you want to show to your husband, you pull out your iPhone and bookmark http://m.target.com/p/3-pc-bedford-bedroom-set-ebony/-/A-11623411 . With iOS6, a copy of that bookmark is synced to Safari on your PowerBook at home, so when you open up the link for your husband, guess what website you’ll see on your Retina display Powerbook mac? You’ll see a giant version of the mobile site. The same will happen if you e-mail the link to your husband to look at on his windows PC.

    Even worse, Google doesn’t treat m. pages and www. pages as the same page, so if lots of sites link to your www. page causing it to rank really high for organic search, your m. version still isn’t likely to rank highly. Google calls it “Separate Mobile URL’s” and in their new recommendations for mobile sites, it’s the worst way to handle mobile optimized pages:

    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2012/06/recommendations-for-building-smartphone.html
    https://developers.google.com/webmasters/smartphone-sites/details

    Cheers,

    Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg

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