Where Retail Brands Fall Flat On Tablets

L2Tablet usage is on the rise but retailers have yet to catch up, shows a new report by research company L2. As more people spend time on tablets—which L2 categorizes as a separate device from a PC or mobile device—retailers need to adopt a distinct strategy for engaging shoppers on their tablets.

“Tablets have been treated as an adjunct to either smartphone or desktop development efforts and it shows,” Colin Gilbert, digital strategy consultant at L2, told AdExchanger. “Brands have to be cognizant of the unique experiences tablets offer versus a smartphone or a PC.”

The research company studied 60 retail brands’ app and site experiences on iPads. The brands included various apparel, accessories, housewares, and online retailers such as Aeropostale, JC Penney, Williams-Sonoma, Cartier, Net-A-Porter, and Sephora.

L2 found that 83% of the brands replicated their desktop site experience on tablets, and sent tablet users to their website to complete a transaction. “The majority of apps,” Gilbert commented, “still push users to the browser to commence or complete a transaction—a clunky solution that interrupts the experience and risks user abandonment.”

Only 13% of the brands’ sites supported any touch-and-swipe functionality beyond scrolling and most brand sites took 2.5 times longer to load on tablets than on desktops (4.4 seconds versus 1.8 seconds). In addition, one in three brands did not support “cart continuity,” forcing consumers to redo their selections when switching devices during a transaction. Among the brands that offered a mobile app for the iPad, only 10% offered an in-app checkout service.

The report also highlighted a few brands that showed a “flash of genius.” Nike earned credit for its “sticky” sidebar filters that offer finger-friendly menu items and the NIKEiD customization engine that shows 360-degree views of the footwear. Kate Spade’s in-store iPads received a nod for its emphasis on brand immersion. The tablets include videos, walkthroughs, promotions, and content relevant to nearby clothing.

IDC predicts tablet shipments will surpass desktop PCs this year, and will exceed portable PCs like laptops by 2014. Given that tablets are still relatively new however, it is understandable that many brands are still learning how to best leverage the technology, Gilbert said.

To bring themselves up to speed, Gilbert suggests companies start with ensuring that the layout of their tablet-enabled sites are making efficient use of space. “A lot of brands aren’t providing variable content sizing for images and text,” he commented.

An optimized site loads at speeds on par with the desktop, the site adapts to either orientation mode (portrait or landscape), and texts, buttons and images are sized appropriately for fingers. “It’s these small details,” Gilbert noted “where most brand efforts fall flat.”

As for paid media, in an earlier study that looked at 100 brands, L2 found that only 25% of the brands examined were serving different ads on different devices by taking advantage of local directions, embedded “call” boutique buttons, or mobile-centric offers.

While this finding is more specific to delineating between smartphone versus desktop ad strategies, Gilbert noted, it is “still indicative of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to digital favored by many brands.”

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