March 18, 2014, 4:19 PM

Tablet sites must be easy to use, but as functional as desktop sites

Regardless of whether a retailer creates a tablet-specific site or a responsive design site that serves all devices, including tablets, the site on tablets should offer the same features and functions as the site on desktops, a new Usablenet report finds.

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When shopping on tablets, consumers want browsing and purchasing to be easy, but at the same time, tablet shoppers want all the content and features they can access on desktop computers. And most retailers say they know this.

These are the chief findings of “Creating a Tablet-Specific User Experience: The Business Case,” a new report from mobile commerce technology provider Usablenet Inc. The report is based on a survey of 100 U.S. and U.K. retailers, a survey of 671 consumers in the U.S. and U.K., and one diary study of 12 tablet owners in the U.S. and U.K., all completed between Nov. 26 and Dec. 6, 2013.

70% of consumers say the quality of photography and site design influences their decision to purchase when shopping on a tablet, and 77% say an unsatisfying tablet shopping experience affects their willingness to buy from that site, the Usablenet survey finds. The survey’s findings show that retailers that design specifically for tablets likely will improve conversion and increase average order value, says Carin van Vuuren, chief marketing officer at Usablenet.

Optimizing for tablets means more than just resizing photos to fit the screen of a tablet, says van Vuuren. A tablet-optimized site should be specifically designed for the ways a tablet differs from a desktop computer; retailers must design site navigation and content presentation with touch-screen, high-resolution screens in mind, she says. They must also keep in mind that consumers turn their tablets horizontally and vertically, and must ensure their sites look good in either landscape or portrait mode.

Usablenet builds standalone tablet-specific sites, but uses responsive design techniques to create and serve the presentation layer, or user interface, of its sites. The firm keeps a tablet site’s data, such as product data, and systems, such as customer reviews and product recommendations, separate from the presentation layer that controls what the consumer sees; data and systems stem from the retailer’s desktop site. Responsive techniques detect the type of device requesting a page and format text, images, product data and site features to fit that device. While a tablet-specific site requires its own coding, a responsive design site uses one code base and one set of content to create versions of a single site that fit screens of varying sizes, so a retailer does not have to build separate, standalone sites for computers, smartphones and tablets.

73.8% of retailers in the Usablenet survey say they have a tablet site, either a tablet-specific site or a responsive design site, the report says. The degree to which a tablet-specific site is optimized may vary widely by retailer, based on the open-ended question in the survey—some may be complete redesigns of the standard web site while others may be desktop sites with only small tweaks, Usablenet says. Only 34 of the top 500 merchants in mobile commerce have tablet-specific sites, versions featuring comprehensive optimization, according to the 2014 Internet Retailer Mobile 500. 39 of the top mobile retailers have responsive design sites, up significantly from a mere handful the previous year. Many retailers tell Internet Retailer they are in the midst of building a responsive design site.

But van Vuuren contends that responsive design may not be enough for many consumers.

“Responsive design is one of the options available to brands looking to achieve a consistent experience between desktops and tablets. However, one of the key differences between selecting a responsive solution for tablet versus creating a unique experience on tablet is the fact that a unique tablet experience allows brands to optimize every aspect of the site for device capability, user interface, speed and user experience that promote the achievement of customers’ shopping goals,” van Vuuren says. “By comparison, responsive sites contain inherent compromises in key areas that matter to users: site speed and context.”

Shoppers on smartphones also want all desktop site features and functions, according to a story in the March issue of Internet Retailer magazine that includes exclusive data from a study by Retail Systems Research LLC. 49% of consumers on smartphones who land on an m-commerce site ditch that site and shop on the full desktop site on their phones, the study says. This is because retailers, in a march to make shopping on smartphones streamlined and easy, dropped too many features from desktop sites, retailers and experts say.

That RSR study on smartphones and the Usablenet study on tablets agree on a key point: Mobile shoppers want feature-rich shopping. However, while Usablenet contends tablet-specific sites are the answer, retailers profiled in the magazine story that have had poor experiences with smartphone-optimized sites generally say responsive design sites are the answer. But some retailers do say that improved, richer m-commerce sites for smartphones are a better way forward than responsive design.

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