January 11, 2011, 11:41 AM

The iPad will transform e-commerce

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

The eBay iPad app provides a rich, vivid customer experience.

When the iPad first came out last April, I wasn’t so sure how impactful it would be on e-commerce. After all, you’re just accessing e-commerce sites the same as you would on a desktop or laptop. And there was no big rush by retailers to build iPad apps as there was with the iPhone. And why exactly would someone need a tablet PC if they already have a laptop and a smartphone?

But last week, when I got an iPad and spent a significant amount of time on it browsing the web and downloading and using dozens of apps, I saw the light. This device offers an extraordinarily elegant and vivid web and app experience, one retailers can really exploit.

Apple Inc. sold 8.5 million iPads in 2010, growing 128% to 19.4 million in 2011 and growing another 55% to 30.1 million in 2012, research firm eMarketer predicts. Manufacturers of all tablet computers, including Apple, will sell 9.7 million units in 2010, 24.0 million in 2011 and 40.6 million in 2012, eMarketer says. That translates to the iPad owning 88% of total tablet sales in 2010, 81% in 2011 and 74% in 2012.

Plain and simple, the iPad, like the iPhone before it, has a strong allure. And deservedly so. The high-definition screen makes web sites and images and colors pop in a way that can’t be matched by most smartphones and even desktop monitors. Apps come perfectly designed and proportioned for the ample 9.7-inch screen, and are more robust than their smartphone counterparts.

What about other tablet PCs? The few that have come out since the launch of the iPad haven’t made a dent in iPad sales, and frankly, that iPad allure is awfully powerful. Plus, Apple yet again has come out first with a product and secured a tremendous number of customers before other players got off the ground. (There are many more tablets on the way, many using Google Inc.’s popular Android smartphone operating system.)

I’ve scoured the App Store for retail iPad apps and to date have downloaded 24. Each one offers a great customer experience and is a joy to use. Retailers with iPad apps include Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc., Gap Inc., Gilt Groupe, The Golf Warehouse, HSN Inc., The Neiman Marcus Group Inc., QVC, Sears Holdings Corp., Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., Wine.com Inc. and Zappos.

But all of this leads me back to the question that still bothers me: Are sales made on the iPad truly mobile commerce? I still contend that the iPad is not a mobile device but a portable device. A mobile device fits in your pocket and can be taken anywhere you go. A smartphone is a truly mobile device; an iPad is not, which is why I call it a portable device, like a laptop or netbook.

However, with one exception, all of the retailers I’ve talked with that have offered comment on how they are accounting for iPad sales (typically through the same e-commerce site one can access on the desktop) say they count these sales as mobile commerce. As far as they’re concerned, iPad sales = mobile sales. And if retailers say iPad sales are part of their mobile count, I pretty much have to follow suit.

Since the launch of the iPad, I’ve covered it, apps for it and issues surrounding it. As I said earlier, it’s clearly a device that will have a potent impact on e-commerce. I think I’m going to have to broaden the definition of mobile commerce, though, and say that tablet PCs are truly a part of mobile commerce. That’s what retailers are saying, and with millions of consumers flocking to these portable, um, excuse me, mobile devices, that’s the direction consumers are heading.

I’ve got to get going now. I have to play with the brand new iPad app from Peapod. Apple—you got me again.

Comments | 3 Responses

  • My wife got an Ipad 4 Xmas Not being an Apple head I did not see what was so great about it. I still can't explain what catagory it falls in to. Then I tried the Realtor application. Most amazing, rich,e z 2 use. program ever.If I had that Ipad 6 yes ago as a Realator my sales would have doubled. Or clients would have shopped with out me.Still think it is ground breaking, on par with the Bill Gate PC. revolution decades ago!

  • I definitely think the iPad falls into the mobile device category. While it is bigger than a smart phone and offers more visual real estate for app developers, the reality is, it still isn't on par with a laptop. Future versions might allow more robust word processing and spreadsheet utility and other functionality reserved for a laptop, but until then, it is definitely a mobile device--one used on the run. That said, I don't think that the iPad is a souped up smart phone (minus the phone). It offers a robust experience not available to date on the smart phone and offers its users a middle ground between smart phone and laptop. Online retailers would be smart to get ahead of the curve and offer an iPad app to increase ecommerce purchasing via the iPad. It's only a matter of time before more and more sales are captured through tablet devices.

  • Since the introduction of the iPad in 2010, tablets have steadily grown as a medium for mobile retail. Despite this, companies are still not taking full advantage of all that tablets have to offer. When creating their mobile strategies, many businesses are not planning specifically for the iPad, instead relying on their iPhone apps or traditional websites. This leads to lower user satisfaction, which in turn results in lower levels of customer engagement and brand loyalty. Companies that develop apps specifically for tablets, taking advantage of their native capabilities, will inevitably see greater adoption rates and customer interaction. We advise companies to plan and create apps specific to the various platforms that consumers are using to engage with their brand (tablets, smartphones, desktops, etc.). Investing the time and resources to address these platforms individually is the only way to ensure the optimal user experience and capitalize on the full potential of mobile e-commerce.

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