January 22, 2013, 5:23 PM

Tablets first, then smartphones

Fat Brain Toys’ tablet site nets the merchant a 221% increase in conversion.

Lead Photo

The home page of the merchant's site specially optimized for use on iPads.

Mark Carson, president and co-founder of Fat Brain Toys, has been at a fork in the road many times.

“Do we develop our site for Netscape, Internet Explorer, or accommodate each? Do we develop OS-specific features that work on Windows, Mac, or accommodate both? Do we build in support for both Flash and non-Flash? JavaScript and non-JavaScript? The list goes on and on,” Carson says. “Today the question is: How do we leverage the growing legions of users accessing our site via mobile technology?”

Carson says with mobile commerce he hit yet another fork in the road when it comes to investing time and resources: Should he build an m-commerce site for shoppers on smartphones or should be construct a site specially optimized for consumers on the dominant tablet, the iPad?

“Our solution was to approach the problem in two phases,” Carson says. “Tablets maintain a distinct advantage in terms of e-commerce usability and as a result have had a superior conversion rate as compared to smartphones. So in an effort to prioritize our efforts, we elected to build out a tablet-optimized site for the 2012 holiday season, then build out a smartphone site in 2013.”

Fat Brain Toys launched its tablet-optimized site on Thanksgiving 2012. Today, the first batch of results are in and Carson says they show the retailer made a wise move in tackling tablets.

Comparing the first 45 days after Thanksgiving with the iPad site up and running with the 45 days prior to Thanksgiving, the conversion rate on tablets increased 221%, Carson reports. Before Thanksgiving the conversion rate was 39% less than the desktop conversion rate; after turkey day the conversion rate was nearly 8% greater than the desktop rate. Carson declines to reveal the exact conversion rates.

Traffic from the iPad to the e-commerce site before Thanksgiving hit 12.71% of total traffic; iPad traffic after reached 13.09%, Carson says. The iPad accounted for 96.20% of total tablet traffic. Carson was surprised that the much-touted Kindle Fire tablet from Amazon.com Inc. didn’t have a stronger presence; it made up only 0.50% of total tablet traffic.

“While I expect a smartphone site to improve upon the results we’re currently seeing, I don’t think it has near the potential of tablets,” Carson concludes. “Smartphone sites may be good for looking up information but I don’t believe that today’s mobile devices lend themselves to the true shopping experience that is necessary to drive significant e-commerce revenue.”

On the tablet front, Fat Brain Toys has been participating in the Google Catalogs digital catalog aggregator app. Google publishes a retailer’s catalogs in its app and takes a small slice of each sale made through the app. Carson has mixed feelings about this channel.

“In terms of our performance with tablet catalogs, it was not good,” he says, though he declines to reveal exact figures. “In our second year participating with Google Catalogs, we saw limited traffic and only a handful of orders. Overall I’m still pleased with the exposure, but if it were a ‘pay to play’ model, I likely wouldn’t be participating until I can see more results.”

For the future, Fat Brain Toys will be focusing any tablet work on its new tablet site, which the merchant views as a significant part of its e-commerce mix.

“While we included several tablet-specific features, our current tablet site is nothing more than a starting point,” Carson says. “It needs to be tweaked and tested and evolved into something far beyond what it is today. But I can confidently say that the statistics prove that our efforts in this realm are warranted and if tablet sales continue to grow, that only serves to fuel additional revenue growth in years to come.”

Fat Brain Toys is No. 454 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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