December 19, 2012

Tablet Commerce

The catalog industry seems to really like the potential of tablet commerce via 3rd party apps.

Can you blame a cataloger for loving tablet commerce via 3rd party apps?  The merchant and creative executive get to replicate the same process (creating spreads / stories) that they've been replicating since the 1980s.  This is in stark contrast to e-commerce, which old school merchants and creative leaders find blatantly algorithmic and unfeeling.

How about the customer?  Does the customer love tablet commerce via 3rd party apps?  Overwhelmingly, to date, the answer is no.  Count how many customers listen to Pandora on a tablet, read a book on a Kindle app on a tablet, or play games on a tablet.  Now count the number of customers who purchase via the most popular tablet commerce apps.  For almost all catalogers, less than 1% of annual sales come via tablet commerce 3rd party apps.

Does this mean that tablet commerce is destined to fail?  Absolutely not.

Why, then, aren't customers flocking to tablet commerce via 3rd party apps?
  • Judy:  She loves the physical catalog.  If she owns a tablet, it's hard to improve upon the paper-based experience she's grown to love over 35 to 45 years, right?
  • Jennifer:  She choose e-commerce over catalogs.  She hunts for the best deal, having six tabs open at a time, comparing prices across the internet.  Today's tablet commerce apps make that style of shopping way too difficult for her - she's forced into a walled garden.  Jennifer doesn't want to be forced into anything, she's in charge.
  • Jasmine:  We don't know enough about her habits, yet, do we?  But we do know enough to know that she's heading in interesting, new directions.
What mistake did catalogers make when moving to tablet commerce via 3rd party apps?  

Well, we replicated the catalog experience.  By doing that, we didn't solve a genuine customer problem.

We are not solving a customer problem when we plop a 96 page catalog onto a tablet.  If anything, we create more problems!  For Judy, it's hard to read.  For Jennifer, it's hard to comparison shop.  For Jasmine, it's inherently unsocial.

Tablet commerce apps have the potential to take off, to change the world.

But we're going to have to re-think the merchandising and creative strategy behind tablet commerce apps.

For instance, if you are "brand x", why not create a 16 page mini-catalog of best sellers, low-density (1 item or 2 items per page), with easy-to-read copy?  You don't need to smash 128 pages at 12 products per spread onto an iPad Mini --- there is simply no rule out there requiring you to do this.  Or why not produce mini-catalogs twice a week, once on Monday, once on Thursday?  You already do this (it's called email), so just change the creative strategy to one congruent with the strengths of tablet commerce 3rd party apps?

Until we start executing tablet commerce in a way that aligns with the strengths of the channel, we'll fail to realize the potential of the channel.  We need experimentation in tablet commerce, not the simple dumping of a catalog into a tablet commerce app.

And, yes, I realize this doesn't align with what catalog merchants and catalog creative experts love doing.

It's time to rethink this tablet commerce concept via 3rd party apps.


  1. The tablet has become common as the smartphone. I like the involvement of the small players because they offered affordable tablets compared to the high end but overpriced ones. Investing in such craze is a wise thing to do.

  2. Mobile gadgets are becoming increasingly popular amongst a huge number of consumers. An individual on average can own up to at least 2 mobile devices, with one being for personal usage and the other for work purposes. Today, one of those 2 devices is usually the tablet which has a bigger screen for an even better surfing experience. Hence, tablet e-commerce has a very bright future from my very own perspective.


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