The iPad Owned Black Friday, So Let’s Start Seeing Better Shopping Experiences Designed For It

The iPad seems to have dominated online shopping from tablets, according to an IBM report, and in fact won out over all other devices in mobile e-commerce. Arguably, that’s because it has far more market share compared to its Android rivals, and because it offers more of a full-web experience, which is more pleasant for browsing standard online retailer sites than what a smartphone screen provides. But tablet-based shopping continues to be a less than optimal experience, and it represents a largely ignored growth area where new solutions and innovative e-commerce experiences can’t come fast enough.

The state of online shopping for iPad isn’t exactly thrilling, despite the obvious market opportunity. IBM says that mobile shopping sales climbed over 6 percentage points this year, and mobile visits to e-commerce sites were made by 24 percent of all online shoppers, up a huge 10 percent form last year. Research from earlier in the year saw mobile commerce double in size in 2011, to a total of $65.6 billion. Tablets have been shown to drive more e-commerce spending than smartphones, meaning they’re the perfect target for custom experiences.

But why bother? The whole point of the iPad is that it delivers standard websites without really sacrificing usability, right? That’s true, but just because an experience does work on a platform doesn’t mean efforts should stop there.

Not that everyone’s just leaving well enough alone. Best Buy has a dedicated tablet version of its website that it serves if you visit from an iPad; Amazon has an iPad app and a more playful, experimental take on tablet commerce with its Windowshop app. But these are exceptions, rather than rules: Walmart isn’t optimized, nor is Amazon’s web experience, as just a couple of noteworthy examples.

But even the exceptions have significant drawbacks. Best Buy’s tablet experience is okay, but it does little to truly explore the benefits of the platform, and it feels a little hastily thrown together in places. Amazon’s Windowshop was a fun, novel experimental take on how tablet shopping might differ from traditional desktop web experiences when it came out in 2010, but it has remained relatively unchanged since then, and it doesn’t seem like the e-tailer learned any valuable lessons to fold back into its main portal from the effort. In other words, where Amazon originally looked to have begun building a playground to figure out the future of tablet-based retail, Windowshop actually seems to have been more of a one-trick pony.

There are startups out there that are stepping up and trying to rectify the relative stagnation of the bigger players. Shopmox is a great example. The Toronto-based startup has created an app that combines the best elements of paper and online catalogs with an interface tailored to the iPad for a shopping experience that’s actually pleasant, not just functional, on Apple’s tablet. The startup is in the process of signing up more retailer partners, CEO and co-founder Kevin Lister told me, but stores and brands should be jumping on this kind of thing faster.

There are and were good reasons for retailers to be cautious with products designed specifically for a new device category. There was definitely a chance that the consumer love affair with tablets would be short-lived, but I think nearly three years on, with no end of growth in sight, we can agree they’re not just a flash in the pan. There’s also the possibility that economic worries could put a damper on all consumer activity in the near future, including mobile commerce. But regardless of whether the market overall contracts, I think mobile will continue to make up a growing percentage of business, so if brands want to get as much of the remaining spend that’s out there, it makes sense to develop shopping experiences that shine on the devices they’re using most.

Tomorrow’s Cyber Monday, and that means we’ll probably be inundated with even more stats later this week about how much shopping was done on tablets. But I can’t help but wonder how much higher those numbers would be if more companies were actually paying proper attention to the needs of tablet shoppers, instead of taking a half-cocked, wait-and-see approach that is definitely leaving money on the table.