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News/ Emerging Media

Adobe Digital Marketing Study Finds Tablets Rule For Shopping

by David Gardner
Contributing Writer

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Mobile tablet owners might love their devices, but online retailers are likely to love them even more. A new study by Adobe Digital Marketing Insights reveals that individual tablet visitors spend more money on online purchases than do smartphone or traditional desktop- and laptop-computer shoppers.

The Digital Marketing Insights study (free for download at the end of this article, or click on the image, right) demonstrates that the relatively new phenomenon of the online tablet is already “creating a disruptive shift in how consumers interact, shop and spend money with retailers online.” The study--which analyzed online transactions of more than 150 U.S. retailers in 2011--found that tablet visitors to online retail sites spent more than 50% more per purchase than did smartphone visitors and more than 20% more per purchase than did traditional desktop and laptop visitors.

The study, based on more than 16 billion transactions, indicates a sharp line of demarcation for an emerging online shopping category: tablet-optimized sites. As a result, Digital Marketing Insights asserts that the current “one-size-fits all” approach to mobile-optimized sites for all mobile devices, including smartphones, will be ineffective when compared with sites optimized for tablet visitors.

“We were surprised by the magnitude of the [shopping gains] with tablets,” said Austin Bankhead, director of Adobe Digital Marketing Insights, in an interview with (Note: Adobe is’s parent company.) “In the past, the industry thought of all consumers who shop with mobile devices as one homogenous group, but we can no longer do that. Tablets and smartphones are distinct interaction channels.”

Bankhead asked rhetorically: Is there something about tablet owners that sets them apart from smartphone and other mobile device owners? When making purchases, the large tablet screens are easier to use than smartphone screens, and he also noted that the high price point of most tablets means that owners may be more affluent than other visitors. In fact, tablet owners generally skew toward 18- to 34-year-old males. “Outside research indicates that men are often earlier adopters of technology,” Bankhead said.

The study suggests that, as tablet adoption increases, retailers should determine the best way to provide new customer experiences via unique tablet-oriented interfaces. “Tablet-optimized Web sites that utilize the unique user experience tablets enable, along with the environment in which Tablet Visitors shop, may encourage Tablet Visitors to spend more than if they continue to visit sites optimized solely for smartphones or traditional computers,” the report states.

The average order value (AOV) of tablet visitors jumped ahead of AOV for traditional computers and smartphones, with tablet visitors spending $123 on average, versus $80 for smartphone purchases and $102 for traditional visitors. It should be noted that, early in 2011—when data for the report began to be collected—the tablet population consisted almost entirely of Apple iPads, but tablets from competitors began appearing as the year wore on.

Yet the tablet phenomenon is still in its infancy, with just 12% of the Internet population—some 28 million consumers—owning tablets, according to the Online Publishers Association (OPA). Tablet owners tend to come from households with above-average incomes, and the low price of tablets in relation to traditional computers is likely to pave the way for rapid creation of an ever-growing tablet-owner population.

Of course, visits to online retailers are still overwhelmingly dominated by traditional laptops and desktops. But visits by consumers using traditional computers are slowing, while tablet and smartphone visitors are gaining traction. Visits by tablet visitors quadrupled, and smartphone visits doubled in 2011; meanwhile, the share of traditional visitors dropped by six percentage points. Smartphone users have some advantages of their own because the devices’ portability make it easy for users to be influenced by local promotional offers and visits to brick-and-mortar stores.

Another compelling reason for the growth of shopping via tablets may be that the activity tends to take place in a less stressful environment: the comfort of weekend use at home. Some 34% of tablet visitors shopped on weekends, while 27% of smartphone visitors and 24% of traditional visitors were weekend shoppers. 

The Digital Marketing Insights report produced another interesting finding, underscoring the theory that promotional offers and discounts for tablet owners can be effective in convincing them to use their devices to shop: Focusing on the November holiday sales days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, purchases and spending spiked. “Tablet visitors took the hook, and they bought,” said Bankhead, describing the significance of holiday promotions. “This showed that they do respond to promotions.”

The 2011 holiday shopping period saw tablet visitors delivering conversion rates higher than they delivered during the calendar year. In all, the AOV of tablet visitors exceeded the 2011 calendar year and holiday averages by as much as 16%. The conversion rates jumped 36% and 68% for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, respectively, to 3.4% and 4.2%. Adobe said the increases “are likely due to heavy promotional offers and discounts, demonstrating that consumers have a high propensity to purchase on tablet devices, in addition to using them to browse and conduct product research.”

These findings represent just some of the study highlights as measured by the Adobe Digital Marketing Suite. For all of the U.S. retail Web sites analyzed, average annual revenue was $260 million and median annual revenue was $100 million.

Adobe noted the value of additional recent survey-based studies, including data from Efficient Frontier, demonstrate that as much as 77% of retailer mobile search spend from August to October 2011 was attributed to tablets. (Adobe Systems acquired Efficient Frontier earlier this month.) A National Retail Federation survey found that 37.4% of tablet consumers researched products during the Black Friday weekend. A December Google study found that 77% of tablet owners were planning to use their devices for holiday shopping.