March 18, 2011, 4:00 PM

A revolution in personal computing has begun

The tablet PC is changing the way people—and e-commerce vendors—interact with the web.

Lead Photo

Zappos is an e-retailer that has taken the iPad very seriously, having launched an iPad app last year.

Apple Inc. fired the first shot in a personal computing revolution in April 2010 when it introduced the iPad—and proceeded to sell 15 million by year’s end. According to a new PriceGrabber.com Inc. survey, 23% of U.S. consumers plan to purchase the iPad 2, which debuted March 11, within the first year of its release. This figure is bolstered by Apple, according to research and investment firm Piper Jaffray & Co., selling 500,000 of the iPad 2 the first two days of its release. Online orders currently are delayed by weeks as Apple struggles to keep up with the demand.

Forrester Research Inc. released in January its projections for tablet PC growth, and the numbers are astounding. It says in 2011 26.0 million U.S. adults will own a tablet PC. That number will grow to 50.7 million in 2012, 67.7 million in 2013, 76.1 million in 2014 and 82.1 million in 2015. If that’s not a revolution, I don’t know what is.

Consumers use tablets to access the web. They do so either using the web browser installed on the tablet or via apps they download from an app store. These apps can be ones specially optimized for the tablet or smartphone apps using the same operating system that can be blown up to fit the size of the tablet screen. One way or another, it’s all about people using this new computing device to get to the content and brands they want online.

If you use an e-commerce platform provider, I strongly suggest that you take a meeting with provider staff, if you haven’t already, and discuss what they and you can do to ensure that tablet PC users, especially the market-dominating iPad users, get the best web experience possible.

“The iPad and other tablet devices represent an important and emerging opportunity for retailers to offer a more compelling online and in-store experience,” says Gary Lombardo, multichannel and mobile product marketing manager at Demandware Inc. “At Demandware, we see tablets as an important part of a wider multichannel strategy, where tablets are used to put a richer experience directly in the hands of consumers, as well as are used by sales associates to provide a richer in-store experience for consumers.”

On the consumer side, Demandware creates for its clients tablet-optimized web experiences as well as tablet apps.

“Most retailers today do not have a tablet web-optimized site, and this can work fine for some retailers, depending on their consumers and strategy,” Lombardo says. “For others, however, a tablet-optimized site makes sense. We expect the number of tablet-optimized sites to continue to grow.”

On the retailer side, the technology provider sees tablets enabling an entirely new opportunity.

“We are working with retailers who want to use the iPad for sales associate-driven experiences,” Lombardo says. “Specifically, we see the iPad and other tablets taking on a greater role for concierge use-cases where sales associates can use the devices to help customers shop in-store—from finding products they are looking for to checkout, where the tablet device is used in mobile POS.”

Like Demandware, Oracle, which acquired e-commerce and m-commerce technology provider ATG, is working on iPad strategies and experiences for its retailer clients. In December it released ATG Version 10.0, which enables e-retailers to build multiple versions of their e-commerce sites that fit desktop PCs and laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

“The iPad got out there first. It’s a different experience than a desktop or an iPhone, and you do want to enable the experience that a consumer expects,” says Kelly O’Neill, product strategy director, Oracle retail. “A site to ATG is very flexible—it could be your web site, mobile site, iPad site, a brand site. Across all of these sites you have an uber-catalog of products, and an uber-view of customer segments, so you can understand and direct what should be common across sites and what should be specific to each site.”

Smart technology providers are already out there working on the iPad experience. If you’re working with a provider, get them working on an iPad experience for you today.

Demandware’s Lombardo sums it up nicely: “2011 will be an important year for the iPad and tablets for changing the shopping experience.”

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