In the beginning there was desktop, then came smartphones, and now there is tablet. So reads the abridged history of e-commerce web device trends.
The memories of going mobile are still fresh in the minds of many e-commerce executives, and exploding tablet traffic is compelling Internet retailers everywhere to consider what strategies are available to increase revenue from tablets.
The good news is, development approaches to tablet are not much different from when Internet retailers previously investigated smartphone optimization solutions.
However, confronted with the reality of serving online customers on three different device types, reducing the total cost of ownership for these initiatives is now a key priority in the decision-making process.
To this end, the question of increasing tablet revenue has highlighted the need to consider the cost of the investment (time, resources and money) vs. the possible financial return.
This post will introduce the three dominant approaches for e-commerce tablet optimization and discuss not-so obvious ownership costs that come with them.
Not convinced that tablet optimization is critical for e-commerce sites in 2014? Read the post Top 3 Reasons Why You Need to Optimize Your E-Commerce Website for Tablets in 2014.
1. Separate Tablet Experience (aka the “T-dot”)
The proxy or m-dot (m.example.com) approach to mobile has been around for years and was the preferred approach for Internet retailers to satisfy their smartphone visitors in the early days of the mobile web.
However, faced with the prospect of building an additional, separate website for tablets, many e-commerce executives have realized that “t-dot” approach is not an effective one in 2014.
When a company has a proxy website, there is an internal team behind the scenes managing the desktop and mobile properties.
The team maintains the desktop website but are also responsible for updating the mobile version with any and all changes related to products, features and promotions.
We often hear that those using the proxy approach struggle to maintain parity with their desktop site due to the sheer number and velocity of changes and the complex environment required by a solution built on two separate code bases.
Now consider adding another property for an internal team to manage. It has the potential to double an IT team’s mobile workload — when time could be better spent on other activities that improve the core website experience or IT infrastructure.
And if a large internal IT team is not available to accommodate multiple web properties, it is not any more cost-efficient to outsource the mobile projects. Significant IT resources are needed to keep up regardless of who is completing them.
The bottom line is that when creating a separate website, you are adding another stream of change management projects, maintenance and, ultimately, costs.
So, is the separate ‘t-dot’ tablet website right for you?
If you are already using a mobile proxy, consider how much the total cost of ownership will increase by creating an additional separate website experience for tablets.
If the upfront and ongoing costs come out higher than the revenue projections, which is highly likely for an e-commerce website of any size, then you might want to consider a different approach to maximize your tablet revenue.
2. Responsive Web Design (RWD)
At its core, Responsive Web Design (RWD) is all about serving the multi-screen web. This makes it an obvious candidate for retailers looking to capitalize on their growing tablet customer base.
In its most generalized form, RWD delivers a single website to every screen size.
Websites built using classic RWD techniques dynamically resize the desktop content based on the device that loads it — so it is possible to have a basic tablet experience without needing to invest in one specific device platform.
Hence, a small army of IT professionals is not required to ensure a tablet experience is consistent with desktop, because the properties that control these changes are written into a website’s front-end code.
Interestingly enough, our research shows Internet retailers are reluctant to adopt this approach. In fact, as of August 2013 less than 5% of the world’s top 500 Internet Retailers had an e-commerce website built using RWD.
Like many new technologies, RWD is not perfect; many IT teams who have chosen the responsive approach are still trying to find ways to streamline the process.
Implementing responsive web design involves the teardown and rebuild of the desktop website, meaning lots of highly-skilled resources are required to re-code the entire front-end.
And although changes to the desktop automatically spill over to the mobile experiences, ongoing resources need to be allocated to QA these changes on multiple browsers and devices.
A RWD implementation also takes time.
Creating a stable RWD experience, on average, takes six to nine months and although the end result is one website that serves smartphone and tablet visitors, it is a compromised customer experience with layouts that are not truly optimized for each device family.
Is RWD right for you?
Responsive web design makes a lot of sense long-term. It’s a great way to lower the ongoing cost of ownership of mobile projects, however the up-front investment and need for additional device-specific optimization is considerable.
Thus a responsive design project is less about maximizing tablet revenue, and more about reevaluating your holistic web strategy.
3. Enterprise Responsive Platforms
Like RWD, the enterprise responsive approach intelligently adjusts content for each device and automatically executes any changes made on the desktop website.
Unlike RWD, the enterprise responsive approach makes it possible to serve a custom experience for tablet visitors without rebuilding an existing website from the ground up.
For e-commerce businesses, this approach represents a cost-effective and low-risk way to implement a tablet website within a few weeks.
The approach works by serving templates specifically designed for tablet screens to the customer’s device when they access a website.
Templates are created by leveraging existing the existing website infrastructure — either in-house or by a third party. The complexity and scope of these templates can be scaled according to budgets and timelines.
The result is zero down time and because templates refresh with any changes are made to the desktop, the ongoing maintenance for the tablet experience is minimal.
As with RWD, this approach keeps the original URL of the desktop website thereby letting brands have single, unified websites for visitors on a variety of screen sizes.
The one-URL carries with it a variety of benefits, one of these being simplified SEO management.
Because there is no duplication of content, marketing departments and web teams don’t need to work around the clock to ensure search engines do not penalize them.
Is a enterprise responsive platform right for you?
Internet retailers can use the enterprise responsive approach to optimize their desktop website for tablets quickly with minimal impact on IT overhead and ongoing workflow. These templates can also be applied to websites built with RWD techniques to enhance user experience.
The enterprise responsive approach is definitely a strong way to drive increased tablet revenue, while also keeping the total cost of ownership low.
A tablet-optimized experience will drive conversions, increase average order value and create a valuable revenue stream — but that doesn’t matter if you are over-spending to get the tablet initiative off the ground, or manage changes and IT overhead.
When evaluating your options for tablet-optimization, reference the lessons you’ve learned from your first foray into mobile commerce.
As a first step, use analytics to project potential return on investment by looking at tablet traffic and developing a better understanding of the value of your tablet customers.
Then, establish how many resources you can put towards the tablet project both upfront and ongoing.
Once you’ve calculated the potential ROI of a tablet initiative, it’s easier to understand which approach is the best for your e-commerce strategy.