While all eyes in the online retail space seem to be on social networks and smartphones these days, we’re seeing an emerging trend with tablets that could be the most interesting of all. Only 9% of web shoppers now have tablet devices, but here’s the big deal — most of those people already own smartphones (as well as PCs, of course), and they are saying that they actually prefer to use their tablets for shopping. Not only that, but the ownership of the tablet device itself actually increases the amount of time that people spend online. And we’re anticipating a hockey stick in tablet adoption in the next five years on top of all that. You can read more about these findings in the report my colleague Sarah Rotman Epps and I just wrote titled, “Why Tablet Commerce May Trump Mobile Commerce,” which is based on findings from our joint research on online shoppers with Bizrate Insights. Some of the most compelling aspects that are helping to drive the shopping experience on the device:

  • The larger screen. Not surprising, given the choice between a smartphone and a tablet, consumers find it a lot easier to use the latter to surf the net, click on links, and type in the critical biodata to purchase something online, especially since PayPal Express doesn’t seem to be integrated onto most mobile commerce sites yet.
  • The portability. Consumers love taking their tablets around the house and on the go. The living room is the most common room where the tablet is used, but out of the home is also popular, particularly at restaurants and in airports.
  • The richer content. The apps built for tablet devices are engaging, innovative, and unique. The page flipping, horizontal scroll, gyroscope, and audio recognition that tablets have gave us the unique experiences of TheFind’s Catalogue, Oakley’s OakleyView, and TV commercials that push coupons and offers directly to our devices.

Now the big question for retailers in particular is: While more people may be increasingly accessing web content on tablets, does that mean that content needs to be specially adjusted for the device since in most cases you can do nothing and it renders well enough? For anyone with a tight budget or limited resources, the answer is probably not. But what tablets present is a unique and growing opportunity for deeper customer engagement that can make the Internet shopping experience much better for discovery, inspiration, and interactivity. And much better than social networks and smartphones ever could.