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Smartphone vs. Tablet Commerce: 3 Essential Behaviors You May Be Overlooking

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Though tablets and smartphones are both considered mobile devices based on their portability, user behavior by device differs greatly – from experience to expectation.

With evolving features and functionality, as well as situational needs to consider, there are many unique differences in user behavior by device that can provide marketers with insights on not only the when and where – but how consumers use smartphone and tablet devices for their specific research and purchase-related needs.

Mobile Consumer Preferences: Smartphone vs. Tablet vs. PC

According to comScore's Mobile Future in Focus report, 37 percent of all time spent in digital media is done via mobile device, while PC retains 67 percent. Although the PC still plays a major role in our digital lives, consumers are starting to rely heavily on their mobile devices, utilizing either smartphone or tablet based on distinct needs.

But today, many mobile campaigns are measured based on the assumption that conversions related to mobile advertising should occur in-device. However, just 22 percent of mobile users complete a purchase directly via their smartphone or tablet, and therefore the full impact of mobile cannot be measured without tracking conversion activities beyond the mobile device (and ongoing challenge for the industry).

In fact, a significant percentage of activity conducted via mobile device will translate to purchase via PC. A soon to be released Mobile Path to Purchase Retail report by xAd, Telmetrics, and Nielsen, found that 26 percent of research and decision activity conducted in tablet will drive sales online via PC, while that number for smartphone is just 9 percent. This revelation affects everything from targeting strategy to mobile ad creative.

For example, if a retail chain understands that the majority of their smartphone customers will actually make a purchase in-person, they can modify their targeting to focus on users within the vicinity of their brick-and-mortar stores instead of a broad run of network strategy to drive direct mcommerce. Ad creative would then focus on an offline call to action relevant to the various brick and mortar locations, such as a coupon or limited time offer redeemable on premises.

By considering mobile consumers' preferred method of conversion, you can make simple yet powerful changes in strategy and creative that can amount to big results.

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Tablet Users Care About Location

One of the major differences between smartphones and tablets is their size. Consumers are rarely without their smartphones, constantly relying on them to access information while on the go, while tablet usage is typically done at home or work. This difference in typical usage location leads to a different type of user intent related to consumer expectation of distance.

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The majority of smartphone users take distance into consideration – no surprise there simply because the device has gained prominence as an on-the-go convenience. But when a tablet user accesses their device to search for information, browse, research, etc. 2/3 have location in mind – 45 percent of which is within a five mile radius of their current location. These expectations of distance across both smartphone and tablet, trigger engagement activities that advertisers shouldn't ignore.

Nearly 50 percent of smartphone users leverage their device to look up a business locale or directions, and 20 percent look for a business phone number. While, tablet users typically utilize their devices for research or information, generally unrelated to location, including price comparisons, coupons, and reviews.

But this doesn't mean that location is irrelevant to the activity conducted by tablet users.

One-third of tablet users do indeed look for information related to their location – be it local events, area restaurants, or even a business phone number. While the immediacy of physical location may not be as important to a tablet user, location is an essential contextual element that should drive relevancy in everything from ad creative, to targeting strategy.

Sometimes Smartphone and Tablet are One and the Same

As smartphone become an even more constant companion, they contribute to multi-channel experiences such as TV, PC, and print in a big way. This is causing the divide between what was typically considered smartphone and tablet activity to narrow significantly.

Due to their size, tablets were often known for highly illustrative, branded experiences, while smartphone activity focused on utility in map and navigation and local directory properties. But overall both tablet and smartphones are almost equally used to access these types or properties.

Branded apps or websites are the clear favorite, while search engines are still an essential tool, and so on and so forth. Interesting right?

It seems one of mobile earliest myths about why and how smartphones and tablets are used has officially been debunked. For many brands and advertisers, this means a major re-tweaking of your publisher focus.

This also re-opens the eternal question of app or browser, or both.

If you have an app, great! But your smartphone and tablet consumers will still look to find you via browser, so don't think for a second that they are willing to settle for a pinch and zoom, or dumbed down experience when visiting your brand website. In fact, assuming that smartphone users are not interested in a branded experience whether in app or in browser, could damage your mobile image – and drive 40 percent of your consumers to the optimized arms of your competitors.

The moral here: don't assume (you know what that does) and get with the times. Our mobile culture is constantly changing and it's up to your brand or business to stay on top of it.

Closing Arguments

Beyond portability and convenience, device choice is based on specific user needs in the moment. They could be on the go and reach for their smartphone, in a meeting and turn to their tablet, or at home and make a conscious choice between the two – either way, that decision that then drives all subsequent mobile purchase related activity.

Your mobile consumers are essentially telling you what they want and how they want it, and by identifying mobile user activity related to device during the length of their path to purchase, you can better engage and guide their split mobile audiences throughout their interaction with your business – and reap the benefits.


SimilarWeb Search and traffic sourcing are both crucial to luring shoppers to your website. In this article, "2 Successful Holiday Strategies for Online Retail", you'll learn how to use a two-pronged approach for your holiday search campaigns that combine top keywords with the best referral sites. Data in this article comes from SimilarWeb.

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