January 14, 2014, 11:58 AM

Making the case for a great tablet app

As consumers ramp up their use of tablets, retailers should ensure a stellar tablet shopping and browsing experience, a new report advises. Read about tips merchants can use to create an intuitive and user-friendly tablet app.

Lead Photo

Sephora's tablet app features a virtual mirror, inverting the tablet’s camera so that the top half of the tablet screen becomes a mirror and the bottom a tutorial video.

More consumers are grabbing their tablets to access the web in lieu of their PCs. That means e-retailers need to optimize the tablet shopping experience to reach this growing group of consumers, according to a new research report from AnswerLab, a user experience research and usability testing firm.

43% of U.S. tablet owners report spending more time on their tablets than their desktop computers, according to a study of 1,430 consumers from Google Inc. And 28% say that they use their tablet as their primary computer. Additionally, 68% of those polled say they spend more than one hour a day on their tablets.

With 34% of U.S. consumers now owning a tablet, according to Pew Research Center, retailers who don’t make shopping on a tablet appealing are likely missing out on sales.

A good place to start, according to the AnswerLab report, is by creating a tablet app that is easy to use and easy to shop from.  

Houzz, an app that helps consumers make interior decorating decisions and purchase home décor, is one tablet app that gets it right, AnswerLab says. First, the app maximizes the real estate on the tablet screen by tucking away the navigation options on a slim vertical bar on the left. This allows for more high-quality, interactive images on the screen. The app also uses the tablet camera to enable consumers to upload pictures of spaces or rooms in their home that they are looking to redesign. Other app users and experts can then weigh in with tips on how to decorate the space.  The app also enables consumers to browse beautifully decorated showrooms and tap images, such as a vintage lamp, and be directed to a retail site where they can buy it.

Cosmetics and make-up retailer Sephora, No. 132 in the 2014 Internet Retailer Mobile 500, offers a tablet app that is also a standout, according to the report. It includes do-it-yourself written and video make-up tutorials, and in many cases shoppers can purchase products directly from within the tutorials to complete the look they’re trying to achieve. It also features a virtual mirror, inverting the tablet’s camera so that the top half of the tablet screen becomes a mirror and the bottom a tutorial video, enabling users to apply make-up with the aid of the mirror while also watching the video for help. AnswerLab says Sephora could improve the app by making all screens shoppable. For example, if a consumer wants to purchase an item used in a tutorial video while using the virtual mirror, she can’t buy it without backing out of the mirror and video and tapping the Shop button—a clunky and disruptive process, the vendor says.

Still, Sephora’s tablet efforts are paying off. Sephora experienced a 221% increase in sales via tablets on Black Friday 2013 compared to 2012 and a nearly 300% increase in tablet sales on Thanksgiving Day over the holiday last year, says Julie Bornstein, Sephora chief marketing officer and chief digital officer. Smartphone and tablet sales accounted for nearly one-third of Sephora.com sales over Thanksgiving weekend, Bornstein says.

AnswerLab offers the following tips for companies looking to launch or improve a tablet app:

Make search obvious and easy: Just as with smartphones and e-commerce sites, users need to be able to search and find products easily. AnswerLab suggests putting the search box at the top of the screen with a magnifying glass or the word “search” to let readers know they can type in a query there.

Be big on browsing: Allow ample room for consumers to leisurely browse high-quality images and interact with them. Tablets aren’t much heavier than many magazines, and many shoppers explore and use tablets in the same way they would page through a magazine, the report says. So focus on images and make the navigation options slim so that they don’t take up much space, AnswerLab says. The report also suggests allowing users to enlarge images by tapping or stretching their fingers and offering visuals signs such as arrows to notify consumers that there is more content available.

Have clear calls to action: Houzz does this well by displaying green price tags shoppers can tap to learn more about products and to purchase them.

Minimize the need for typing: Although it easier to type on a tablet than a smartphone, it’s still not ideal, AnswerLab says. Don’t ask for information that isn’t absolutely necessary and consider using multiple-choice options to reduce the amount of manual typing required, the report says. AnswerLab also suggests companies increase entry field sizes to make form field boxes large enough to tap. Consumers using tablets don’t have the option to click on a field with a mouse cursor, so fields need to fit the larger tip of a finger. The same goes for buttons, AnswerLab says. Ensure they are large enough to tap with a finger without selecting the wrong option.





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