Mobile Commerce: iPad and Tablet Shoppers Buy More

Research shows a large increase in ecommerce website traffic from smartphones, but the conversion rate is much higher on iPads and tablets. Is your ecommerce website optimized to cash in on that trend?

New findings show that mobile devices continue to drive traffic on ecommerce websites. However, shoppers who use iPads and tablets convert to the purchase funnel more often and also spend more money compared to smartphone shoppers.

Ability Commerce, a company that provides mobile-optimized versions of ecommerce sites for its clients through the SmartSite ecommerce platform noticed this trend within their customer's analytics.

Among a sampling of retailer clients mobile traffic from August 2010 to August 2011, was found to be dispersed between the popular operating systems but revenues and conversions were consistently skewed toward the iPad.

"We track analytics for our customers all the time," said Jennifer Tonisson, marketing manager for Ability Commerce. "This particular data was interesting because everyone talks about how much traffic is coming from smartphones…but the conversion rate is much higher on tablets," she said.

Ability Commerce collected analytics data from three of its client retailers. Two had mobile traffic spread throughout the various mobile operating systems, but the revenues significantly favored the iPad.  For the third retailer, however, iPad shoppers generated almost all the revenue. In this case, the client offered an iPad-specific application.

Why iPads Earn Higher Conversion Rates on Ecommerce Sites

There are a number of reasons why the conversion rates differ so much between mobile phones and iPads (note: iPads have a much greater market share than Android- or Windows-based tablets that are just now entering the market). Tonisson said that a likely reason was because an iPad has a much bigger screen compared to a smartphone and the shopping experience is improved graphically.

On an iPad, you can see more images in larger sizes, and with the bigger touchscreen you have better interactions with site elements such as hyperlinks.

Or as Susannah Edelbaum, editor of The High Low, recently suggested in a post, the upswing could just be because people who have iPads have more disposable income.

IPad Optimization Tips for Small Business Ecommerce Sites

Using an iPad is more comparable to browsing on a computer, but there are many differences between a computer and tablet. Online retailers should be optimizing websites to provide a better user experience for the growing number of tablet users.

Gavin Miller, lead developer and co-owner of RandomType Inc. has been developing websites and applications for both mobile phone and tablet platforms for the past two years.

He said the biggest difference between using ecommerce sites on mobile devices and the computer is the reduced screen size and the limited capabilities of mobile device browsers. Another issue is websites that use Flash.

"On an iPad tablet you don't have support for Flash, you have smaller browser capabilities and you have less processing power, so there are a lot of little optimizations that need to be made," said Miller.

For example, your website shouldn't be heavy with JavaScript; and because tablets have touch screens instead of a mouse, you lose mouse-hover functionality and you also need to make sure that hyperlinks are bigger on the mobile version of your site.

Miller recommends that ecommerce site owners consider the following strategies to improve the user experience for tablet users:

Simplify It: Look at how people move through your website -- from initial discovery to purchase to checkout -- and "dumb it down" so every step is obvious.

Make it Stimulating: Without mouse-hover effects and Flash, the user experience is not as stimulating. Make sure everything pops properly on its own without the extra visual stimulus a desktop browser provides.

Use a Tablet Yourself: Look at the site using a tablet and test everything. Also find some people who aren't familiar with the site and who don't know how the mobile version is supposed to work. Ask them go through the shopping and checkout process so you can see how they interact with the site on a tablet.

Free Tools to Validate Mobile Ecommerce Websites

Since tablets have been around for only two years, Miller said tools are still being developed but there are a few free websites where you can validate your site. On a mobile validation site you do things like check for incompatible code on your pages, verify the size is tight for smaller or even select a mobile device simulator to see how your site looks to those users.

Here are the testing tools that Miller recommends you try to see if your ecommerce website is ready for iPad and tablet users:

  • Mobile WebPageTest allows you to enter your site URL and it loads your site onto various devices (such as iPhone, Android-based phones or iPads) and provides a screenshot of what your site looks like on that device.
  • MobiReady is a tool that will give you an idea of how well your site is optimized for mobile devices.
  • W3C Mobile Validator is a tool that developers can use to evaluate whether the site is optimized for mobile devices or not. It's a bit more technical than the others.
  • LiveView is a tool that designers can use when creating mobile sites.

Vangie Beal is a seasoned online marketplace seller, frequent contributor to and avid online bargain hunter. She is also managing editor of

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