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

Written by Frank Hayes
September 26th, 2012

After two years and 125 million iPads and other tablet computers shipped, most large chains’ mobile Web sites still don’t seem to know that tablets exist. They still serve up an M-Commerce site designed for a tiny smartphone screen, which looks somewhere between mediocre and terrible on a tablet screen that’s seven inches or larger.

That means just a few years after chains finally figured out the importance of customizing M-Commerce sites for phones, there’s a new advantage to be gained by spotting which mobile devices don’t have tiny screens and giving them their own customized tablet sites—or at least the full-size Web site.

Among the largest retailers, only the Amazon, Home Depot, McDonald’s, Kohl’s, Apple, JCPenney, Gap and Overstock Web sites showed up in a tablet or full-screen version. showed up on a seven-inch tablet with slightly more content added to what was still clearly a site designed for a phone screen.

But Walmart, Target, Walgreen, CVS, Lowe’s, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, Rite Aid, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom and even eBay served up exactly the same screen for a tablet as for a phone with a screen a small fraction of the size. On the phone, those compact, minimalist sites help usability. On even a small tablet, the result is vast expanses of blank space that all but drives away customers.

This wasn’t what we were expecting when we started looking at how E-Commerce sites show up on a tablet. Tablets certainly aren’t new, we figured. The installed base of tablets is about 125 million as of June 2012, according to industry parts-watcher iSuppli, and that number is roughly doubling every year. They’re very, very much on the minds of retail IT shops for in-store use. Of course big chains would already have tailored their M-Commerce sites to handle big screens well, just like everyone finally launched mobile versions of their sites to handle small phone screens. Or so we assumed.

Not so, it turned out. The only accommodation most chains have made to tablets is that there’s a link at the bottom of the mobile homepage to let shoppers see the regular E-Commerce Web site.

That sends a clear message: “We can’t bother to notice you’re using a tablet with a screen big enough that it makes our mobile site look silly or ugly or both. But if you really want to see a full-size site, we’ll allow you to scroll to the bottom of the page hunting for a link to click.” Yeah, that sure won’t drive customers into the arms of competitors.

Of course, not many competitors are identifying tablets as different from mobile phones. The ones that do mostly seem to serve up the standard full-screen E-Commerce site for tablets and a typical phone site for phones, though there are some interesting variations.

For example, Staples did show a few more links at the top and bottom of the screen when we tested it with an Android tablet, compared with what showed up on an iPhone screen. It was still basically the same mobile site, and it wasn’t clear whether the difference was tablet-vs.-phone or Android-vs.-iPhone.

Apple’s mobile site, on the other hand, looked almost exactly like its regular Web site, except that on the tablet it rearranged itself when the orientation changed from portrait to landscape. Interestingly, on the iPhone it correctly identified that it was an iPhone and served up a slightly different site—more links, a special version of the iPhone 5 image that dominated the homepage. But even after correctly IDing the phone, it didn’t adjust the page to make it more small-screen-friendly. (Maybe Apple is hinting that it’s time to buy a phone with a bigger screen.)


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

  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 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

    Example Useragent for android tablet

    So you are supposed to follow this advice to detect Android Tablet devices from Google:

    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 . 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:


    Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg


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