How the iPad Is Reshaping E-commerce

Until the 'Man Purse' Becomes an Acceptable Accessory, Women Will Adopt the Platform Faster

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Patti Ziegler
Patti Ziegler
The growing cohort of iPad owners -- wealthy, tech savvy, and increasingly female -- is emerging as a powerful driver of online retail sales.

Having spent countless hours at swim meets over the past year, I can personally attest that the iPad has become a must-have mobile device for many suburban moms, who seem especially fond of shopping (and playing Scrabble) while their young children compete in the pool.

In counterpoint to common technology stereotypes, women appear to be gaining on men as the fastest growing segment of early iPad adopters. In fact, within four months of launch, the female-to-male ratio of iPad users shifted from 1:2 to 2:3 according to figures from Yahoo. This finding is particularly significant when one considers that women control between 70% and 85% of household spending in the U.S., according to published studies.

In less than a year, the iPad has emerged as powerful platform for online retail -- and the poster child for a new class of mobile commerce. Many retailers report that over 50% of their mobile traffic is now coming from the popular tablet device, according to Forrester, which coined a new name for the trend: t-commerce.

However, rather than creating new incremental sales, says Forrester, t-commerce will largely grow by capturing and cannibalizing traditional PC-based retail traffic.

The Forrester report makes it clear that smartphone-based "m-commerce" also remains highly relevant for retailers. Smartphones are less likely to be used to browse products and make actual purchases, yet mobile devices are increasingly supplementing the in-store shopping experience as more consumers rely on them to find nearby locations, check hours, and obtain price comparisons. Though the majority of m-commerce activities are not transactional, they do have the potential to drive incremental sales offline.

And yet, most retailers have a suboptimal multichannel experience that leaves considerable room for improvement. E-commerce is growing at a double-digit pace and many retailers are ramping-up their presences on mobile and online platforms to offset a simultaneous decline of physical store sales. The "multi-channel monster" will continue to grow in 2011, says Forrester, creating opportunities for retailers that create shopper experiences that seamlessly extend across smartphones, laptops, tablets, in-store kiosks and, yes, the iPad.

If you're fortunate and hip enough to own an iPad -- or have otherwise experimented with one -- the preference for this shopping device will come as no surprise. The nearly 10-inch display offers a comfortable environment for web-surfing and product consideration, overcoming the size restraints that can frustrate shoppers on mobile phones. Compared to point-and-clicking from a laptop, the touch-screen functionality provides a more immediately satisfying and tactile shopping experience. Lightweight and compact, tablets with 3G/4G connectivity are also inherently free from the constraints of the desktop; they can be comfortably schlepped from commuter trains to airport lounges to kitchen counters, facilitating purchases at every venue.

Little wonder then that tablet sales -- as a share of total PC sales -- are forecast to nearly quadruple from 2010 to 2015, according Forrester. "To that end, retailers need to ensure that all pages, transaction forms, and form fields render as well from tablet devices as from any other browser," concludes the report.

In addition to the iPad, new offerings include the Android-based tablets Samsung Galaxy Tab and T-Mobile G-Slate. Forrester's projections for this emerging product category are actually more conservative than forecasts from Gartner and eMarketer, which estimate that tablet sales will exceed 80 million in 2012 and skyrocket to 200 million units by 2014. The demographics are particularly attractive from a retailer perspective. For starters, iPad owners are typically affluent and more likely to be spending money online in the first place. Nearly 95% of iPad owners have "solid wealth and strong incomes," according to analysis from Yahoo. While this well-to-do crowd can afford to drop $500 on frivolous and fun accessories, sobering figures from Nielsen indicate that 31% of North Americans have no discretionary income whatsoever.

Meanwhile, among men with means, there's been speculation that the iPad will finally make "man purses" an acceptable accessory. Acknowledging the high humiliation index of murses, the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times recently recommended military surplus gear like WWII-era ammo cases and map pouches. Good luck with that, guys! Perhaps an iPad-equipped woman could help you buy one online.

Patti Ziegler is chief marketing officer at Engauge, one of the nation's largest independent advertising agencies.
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