Is Mobile Commerce Yet Another Killer Tablet App?

Ann All
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10 Hot New Tablets

New and notable tablets for business and commercial users.

Earlier this year, in a post on whether companies were choosing mobile applications or mobile versions of their websites for e-commerce, I mentioned that different mobile platforms and devices with different form factors would present challenges for companies trying to determine how to allocate their scarce mobile development resources.


While it's still pretty early to call it, it seems a safe bet to assume tablets will be popular devices for mobile shopping. As Forrester Research's Sucharita Mulpuru writes on her blog, Forrester's research indicates consumers prefer tablets to smartphones for browsing and buying online, not too surprising given tablets' larger screens, fun and useful application features like page flipping and horizontal scroll, and the ability to more easily enter data to make purchases.


The market is relatively untapped, writes Mulpuru, with just 9 percent of Web shoppers owning tablets. But that'll change. Forrester predicts the number of tablet users in the U.S. will grow at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 51 percent from 2010 to 2015. Forrester expects mobile shopping to take off as well, growing from $3 billion in 2010 to $31 billion by 2016.


According to a recent report from Flurry Analytics, folks now spend more time using mobile apps than either Web apps or mobile Web apps. Nearly half of that time is devoted to playing "Angry Birds" and other games. Flurry doesn't break out mobile shopping, so I assume it falls into the 5 percent of time spent on "other" activities, after games (47 percent), social networking (32 percent), news (9 percent) and entertainment (7 percent).


Hard-to-use mobile apps and sites present a barrier to mobile e-commerce growth, notes a New York Times story. Mobile sales are lagging analysts' expectations. The story quotes Mulpuru, who says, "... who wants to spend their time pinching screens and mistyping links?" In particular, the story notes the difficulty of tapping out credit card and other information on a tiny screen or keypad. (Advantage: iPad and other tablets.)


The mobile phenomenon appears to have caught many retailers off guard. The story cites Acquity Group research that found only 12 percent of the top 500 online retailers in the U.S. had sites compatible with mobile browsers by mid-2010, while just 7 percent had mobile shopping apps. But the experiences of early adopters show the promise of mobile e-commerce. eBay reports it generated almost $2 billion in mobile sales in 2010, and it expects to double that number this year. More than 12 percent of sales at Rue La La, a flash-sale site for fashion and accessories, came from mobile devices in 2011's first quarter, up from less than 2 percent in Q1 2010.


The story includes some design tips for companies creating mobile apps or mobile versions of their websites, many of them gleaned from Amazon.com, which was offering mobile shopping when the iPhone was little more than a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye. Many of them aren't technical tweaks, but design changes to the usual online shopping experience. For instance, Rue La La suggests moving site registration/log-in to the beginning of a session instead of having folks do it just before making a purchase. Last month, I also offered some great mobile design tips from Media Connection blogger Eric Anderson.

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