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The ballyhooed iPad has arrived, but what does it mean for Internet retailing?
Online retail companies like eBay and Gilt Group are figuring out how to connect with the hundreds of thousands consumers who are using Apple Inc.’s new iPad Internet tablet.
Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce
Hundreds of thousands of people now own an iPad, and they’re using the mega-hyped hardware. Apple Inc. sold 300,000 iPads April 3, the first day the tablet computer went on sale, and 250,000 e-books from its new iBookstore the same day.For merchants, the big question about this much-publicized machine is what does it mean for Internet retailing? Fundamentally, it is another device to add to the growing list of devices for which retailers can design an app, all the rest being smartphones like the iPhone or BlackBerry.
Retailers don’t have to rush out to develop iPad apps, though, because consumers can shop an e-commerce site on an iPad more easily than they can on mobile phones. That’s because the iPad screen is much larger—9.7 inches for the iPad versus 3.5 inches for the iPhone. An app simply enables a retailer to optimize the customer experience for the iPad user, if the retailer chooses to make the investment; the handful of merchants with iPad apps have declined to disclose their development costs.
What’s the difference?
Because consumers can use an iPad to shop full e-commerce sites, there is no fundamental difference to selling online between the iPad and a netbook or laptop. There is one notable exception: The iPad does not run Flash-based features and functions because it runs on Apple’s iPhone operating system, which bars Flash. So the difference comes in what the iPad brings to the table compared with more portable devices, namely smartphones. And the difference centers on the specially developed apps that the iPad and smartphones can run, which netbooks and laptops do not.
Steve Yankovich, vice president of platform business solutions and mobile at eBay, points to three things that make the iPad different from a smartphone experience: screen size, screen resolution and speed.
EBay’s iPad app makes use of those features by opening to a screen with large, high-resolution pictures, not dependent on a lot of text to explain categories or products. It can showcase products in such high resolution that a consumer might be able to see if a guitar was subtly damaged, Yankovich says.
“And it’s very quick,” he adds. “Normally when you do a search on eBay you get several thousand products and you have to refine the search. But because of the nature of touch-screen technology and no need to limit content to one single page, just by swiping the screen you have this continuous flow of high-resolution images that creates an infinite page. Ninety seconds later you have understood hundreds of listings.”
In a flash
Gilt Groupe, a members-only luxury merchandise retailer with a new iPad app to go with its iPhone app, also espouses the virtue of the bigger screen and higher resolution, but places special emphasis on speed. It offers “flash deals” at noon Eastern time every day. Using the large screen real estate, it lists the deals in a left-hand column, enabling a consumer to touch a deal and have details expanded into the right-hand column. The customer can then touch the product and drag it into the permanently visible shopping cart.
“You really need only one screen to shop Gilt,” says Jag Bath, vice president of product management.
And it’s that kind of flexibility that the iPad’s size offers that sets its apps apart from smartphone apps, says Jason Taylor, vice president of mobile products at Usablenet Inc., an m-commerce technology provider that develops smartphone and iPad apps.
“Mostly it’s about the complexity you can show in the interface because you have more space; technically there’s no big difference,” he says. “A good example is the travel app Kayak. The interface on the iPad is a lot broader and richer because there is a lot more space to create different options. On Kayak you have three or four panels within the iPad app to do different kinds of searches whereas on the iPhone app you have one panel.”