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Oct 24, 2011 | 4 minute read

Holiday mCommerce: Driven by Tablets or Smartphones?

written by Linda Bustos

Pop quiz: what kind of device are more shoppers planning to purchase through this holiday season - a tablet or a smartphone? Make a guess before reading on!

According to ThreatMetrix survey of 722 active Internet using consumers, 37% intend to make a purchase using their smartphone, nearly three times as many as those who plan to use their tablet. (View the entire infographic on The High Low). Why? One explanation is how we use the mobile web -- tablets are used primarily in the living room, not on-the-go, making it just as easy to transact from a desktop or laptop machine than fiddle with a touch screen. A smartphone is on your person most, if not all of the time. But more likely the reason is simply, despite the rapid adoption of tablets, more folks own a smartphone. According to Forrester Research, 9% of consumers owned a tablet vs 39% owning a smartphone when surveyed in June 2011.

So...smartphones win?

Not so fast... The top categories folks are willing to purchase with mobile devices are music and apps (77% and 73%, respectively), gas (69%) and travel (52%). Consumer electronics (48%) and clothing (42%) are not far behind, but pale in comparison to digital downloads that enhance the device and practical purchases like gas and travel. In other words - folks are shopping for themselves, most often for content that enhances their experiences with their own devices. If you strip out device-enhancing purchases like ringtones, according to Forrester, only 13% of consumers have purchased a physical product through their smartphone. Contrast this with 47% of tablet owners. The real growth in mcommerce will come from tablets In Why Tablet Commerce May Soon Trump Mobile, Sucharita Mulpuru cites a study by Forrester and Bizrate that found more than half of tablet owners prefer to shop with their tablets over their smartphones, thanks to larger screens. Some are using tablets as replacement for PCs, a trend that's likely to continue. Tablet owners also spend more time on the web, and more time browsing just for fun. (A stat mentioned at the X.Commerce launch last week was the top reason for visiting mobile retail sites was because users are bored and want to kill time - 78%)! Retailers surveyed by Forrester report that 21% of their mobile traffic comes from tablets, some over 50%.

It's not either-or

Regardless of whether a survey finds more shoppers use smartphones or tablets to access your site, you need to optimize for both experiences. You may have higher traffic Monday to Thursday, but it doesn't mean you take down your site on weekends. The point is not to prioritize one at the expense of the other, they complement each other. Remember, mobile "shopping" consists of more than completing a purchase, including product research (search/browse and reading ratings and reviews), price comparison and store hours/location lookup. Google predicts 44% of last-minute gift and store location searches will be mobile in December. Searches are performed on both smartphones and tablets. And your email messages are accessed on both devices, too.

Maximize the value of your mobile investment

The value of mobile optimization extends beyond what you can measure through analytics, making true ROI difficult to measure. Customers who use mobile to browse and research may complete their purchases on their desktops or laptops. Features that support cross-device shopping, such as saved carts, wishlists and shopping-list style applications can help you squeeze more value out of smartphone and tablet visits, as can triggered emails for carts abandoned on mobile devices so purchases can be easily completed online (get that email address in the first step!)

Overcommunicate security

Are small screens the biggest deterrent to shopping on mobile devices? Nope. 45% of online consumers say that they would shop more if their mobile phone numbers could be kept private, and 44% if mobile payments were more secure, compared to 36% if mobile sites had more features and functionality, and 32% if their mobile devices had a larger screen. Compare the percentage of consumers who fear mobile security (44%) to those who fear sharing financial information online in general (28%). Your job to instill confidence is to overcommunicate the security of your mobile website. I recommend the following:

1. Offer an alternative payment option such as PayPal or Google Checkout (PayPal is more ubiquitous).

2. Title your checkout process "Secure Checkout" instead of "Checkout."

3. Label your checkout button "Secure Checkout" or use a lock icon.

4. Place point-of-action assurances proximal to credit card/financial information entry fields (Verisign badges, links to details of your privacy and security policies).

Looking for help with mobile commerce strategy? Contact the Elastic Path consulting team at to learn how our ecommerce strategy and mobile strategy services can improve your business results.