Why to keep an eye on tablet trends

Despite the hype surrounding iPads and other tablet devices, few consumers own them, and those who don’t are skeptical about needing one. But if the tablet shopping audience is relatively small, it packs a powerful punch.

Industry researcher Forrester found that just 9% of U.S. consumers own an iPad or other tablet device.  The large majority of those owners –  7% of consumers – also have a smartphone, making their tablet devices somewhat redundant.

Furthermore, 74% of consumers say they don’t plan to buy a tablet any time soon. The top reason? For a majority of respondents, tablets were perceived as an inessential luxury, with 64% saying “I don’t think it’s something I need.” Budget was also a primary consideration, with 24% of consumers deeming tablets too pricey right now.

But this doesn’t mean tablets hold little promise for eCommerce merchants. In fact, Forrester and other sutdies have found that, like other early technology adopters, tablet users are a significant force when it comes to shopping.

For starts, the demographic profile of tablet owners is skewed toward more affluent, educated consumers. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of tablet owners are college-educated, have family incomes of more than $75,000, and are employed full-time — higher than the national average. The highest percentage of tablet owners are 30 to 49 years old — a disproportionate percentage compared to the overall populace.

Demographic statistics on tablet owners from Pew

Not only do tablet owners have the means to buy online — they are much more apt to use their devices to do so. According to Forrestrer, only 13% of smartphone users have used the devices to make purchases — but a whopping 47% of tablet owners have used them to shop and buy items, with another 13% using them for browsing.

The majority of tablet owners in all age groups say shopping on the devices is easier than on smartphones — and many say tablets are as easy to use as PCs for shopping. Comfort with tablets is especially high among Gen X users, with 72% saying they prefer the tablet to a smartphone for shopping and 62% saying tablets are as easy to use as a PC.

Data from Forrester on perceived ease of tablet use for shopping

This willingness to shop on tablets translates into sales. According to Ipsos, tablet ownership leads to increased mobile purchasing overall, with “dual owners” of both smartphones and tablets making an average of 18.3 mobile purchases in the past 12 months, compared with 10.4 purchases for owners of smartphones alone. Of those dual owners, 28% report increased spending via mobile purchases — suggesting the larger screen format makes browsing for products a more enticing experience.

Indeed, the E-Tailing Group found that compared with smartphone buyers, tablet shoppers were 20% more likely to be very or somewhat satisfied with the shopping experience, and nearly 70% reported that the shopping experience on their tablets was better than on smartphones.

Data from the E-Tailing Group on satsifaction with shopping experience on tablets vs. smartphones

Given the data, how should merchants cater to tablet shoppers – and to what extent? While for most, tablet shoppers may remain a long-term rather than immediate priority, the peak holiday season is a golden opportunity to gather data that can guide your 2012 strategy. To watch in particular:

  • Mobile traffic and sales by device. If your audience relies on tablets to browse and purchase this holiday season and beyond, you have a strong motivation to begin tailoring content to tablet shoppers.
  • Full-price and luxury buyers. While the holiday season may attract more than a fair share of bargain hunters, if your customers are willing to buy items at full price, or prioritize buying the newest and hottest items, then they may be in the tablet demographic. And luxury merchants should definitely put tablet implementation on the to-do list for 2012; the “early adopters” tablet shoppers represent are an ideal target.
  • Usage and ROI of immersive shopping environments. If interactive dressing rooms, customizable product builders and image-rich displays are big sales drivers for your eCommerce site, translating those experiences onto tablets will be easier than squeezing them onto smartphone screens. Different tablets offer varying levels of integration with Flash, so begin studying up now on how best to replicate features in 2012.

What proportion of your traffic and sales comes from tablets, and how are you catering to tablet shoppers?