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Tablets Trump Smartphones for Ecommerce—Are PCs Next?

Friday, 29 Jun 2012 | 1:12 PM ET

Retailers tend to lump tablets and smartphones into the same category called “mobile,” but that might not be wise, according to the results of a new study by online marketing technology company Monetate.

Inti St Clair | Blend | Getty Images

The company has studied more than 100 million online shopping experiences and the results make it clear that tablets and smartphones should be separated out as separate audience segments or retailers risk alienating customers. What’s more, as other studies have found, tablets are a much more valuable device for ecommerce than smartphones.

Shoppers who are using tablets are much more similar to shoppers who use PCs than shoppers who are on their smartphones. They tend to view nearly the same number of web pages per visit as tablet users, while smartphone users view fewer pages.

Monetate also has seen that the tablet user conversion rate, or the pace at which browsers become buyers, is pretty much equal to the conversion rate among PC shoppers, whereas few smartphone shoppers become buyers.

According to Monetate, conversion rates have consistently been above 3 percent for both tablet and PC shoppers, while the conversion rate for smartphone shoppers in the latest quarter was 1.39 percent and has never gone above 1.7 percent.

Tablets Chip Away at PC Traffic

But those tablet shoppers are poised to become increasingly important to retailers as consumers continue to shift to tablets from PCs. The pace of this shift is so rapid that if it remains at its current pace, website traffic from PC users will dip below 75 percent in less than a year, according to Monetate.

In the first quarter, 88 percent of website visits came from PCs, down from 92.1 percent in the prior quarter, Monetate said. The bulk of the lost share is going to tablets.

In the first quarter of 2012, the share of traffic to ecommerce sites from tablets hit 6.52 percent, outpacing smartphones traffic, which had a 5.35 percent share, for the first time.

Over the past year, tablets’ traffic rose 348 percent while smartphones visits grew by 117 percent over the same period. Almost all of the traffic, some 95 percent, came from Apple’s iPad, Monetate said.

Monetate’s research suggests a swifter acceleration of tablet use than other competing studies, such as one conducted by Adobe last month that suggested tablet traffic worldwide will exceed smartphone by early 2013and represent 10 percent of website traffic by early 2014.

Smartphone users appear to be using their phones to do more comparison shopping and research than do tablet users, said Kurt Heinemann, chief marketing officer at Monetate. They also may be coming to ecommerce sites from email links.

“It’s not really that great for shopping,” he said.

It is also possible that ecommerce sites could get more sales from tablet shoppers if they improve the shopping experience.

“Many retailers haven’t optimized themselves for the tablet,” Heinemann said. He explained that many online shopping features, such as mousing over a product to see it in larger detail, go away on a tablet. Retailers need to think about the shopping experience and how it differs on the tablet, rather than just riding the backbone of a mobile site.

Is Social Just Hype?

The study also had a few interesting things to say about social media. Although ecommerce sites are seeing higher traffic from social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, almost half of the visitors leave the website without going to another page. Of those who stick around, just 3 percent add a product to a cart, and less than 1 percent (0.49 percent) actually make a purchase.

“Social really is not a costly source of traffic, you have to be in the game because you need the exposure,” Heinemann said. That said, ecommerce sights have to do more to keep customers engaged on their website once they arrive.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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