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Smartphones, Phablets, Tablets – How to Optimize for Each

July 18, 2013

by Muli Jeo, Tech Lead

This year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the cell phone.  So much has changed since the brick phone of 1973.

Smartphones and tablet devices are now the norm.

And these devices are no longer mere pieces of technology.  They have become part of our day-to-day activity.  Everything we own has become "smart" and "connected". 

Today, people pay more attention to their smartphones while walking down the street than watching where they are going.

And now, tablets are quickly replacing hardcover books in coffee shops and trains. In the near future, people will be wearing special glasses that constantly feed them information regarding their surroundings,  thanks to Google.

In the retail world, the ubiquity of these devices is the same.

Year-over-year, the number of consumers making purchases online increases by double digits, and more are doing so via their mobile phones and tablets. 

At every retail conference I attend, speakers discuss how important it is to have their businesses become ready to embrace mobile.  In the last couple years, companies have invested heavily in both mobile apps and mobile sites so this trend doesn’t pass them by.  But, this is no longer an easy course.

Even with new technology and new design practices recently introduced such as responsive web design, these practices do not address the mounting challenges and needs generated by so many different mobile devices available. 

Currently, we have traditional smartphones such as the iPhone, whose screens are getting bigger and bigger.  At the same time, we have tablets that are shrinking in size.  And of course, we now have new devices in between that we call "phablets" (phone-tablets) or also known as oversized phones or miniature tablets.  

Throw in the Microsoft Windows 8 release this year, and now we have a whole new set of hybrid devices beginning to appear as well. We have laptops that transform into tablets and tablets that can be easily equipped with keyboards and act as a laptop. 

All of these devices bring unlimited possibilities for user experience and each is unique.   So how do you optimize for all these devices?

1. Trust your analytics and cater first to your main demographic.

Your site’s analytics will give you lots of clues on what devices are being used to visit your site and on what display size. 

Pay attention to any shifting trends on the devices they use.  Are your customers visiting your site using their mobile phones more and more?  Or are they simply replacing their desktop or laptop with their tablets? 

What activities do they do more of on your site with those devices?  What site content adds more value to your customers and on which devices? 

Measure your site’s performance not only across multiple types of content, but also through the medium on which the content is delivered.

2. Be creative and think beyond just another site.

It sounds cliché but with how "smart" our smartphones have become and all the new products and technologies launching every day, the possibilities of what you can do are endless. 

Nordstorm recently empowered their floor sales reps with iPads to provide personalized service to their customers.  You may have also read how Tesco enabled their customers to "virtual" shop while doing their day-to-day activities, such as waiting for the train.  Through the use of QR codes and virtual product displays at public places, Tesco customers can now use their smartphones to point-and-shoot and buy their groceries.

3. Each device is unique.  Treat them as such.

Remember, there is no one solution.

Responsive design may bring a quick win to cater to various screen sizes but it isn’t always the right solution.  Sometimes it is not enough just to "mobilize" your website.  Utilize the strength of each device and treat them as separate business channels instead. 

With smartphones, time and place matter.  Push the right messages and products at the right time and at the right place to your customer via their smartphones. This will increase impulse buying and generate more personalized engagement.

Now that you know how your customers are connecting with you, and what activities they’re peforming on what device, you can’t rest on your laurels.  Optimization is an ongoing effort.  With new products/screen sizes/technologies launching daily like eBay’s shoppable windows, your optimization efforts should continue. 

At the end of the day, connecting with your customers on their terms will not only increase their user experience but also your conversions.