When you go online, you do so via a smartphone, right? Such an assumption was made by Brandt Dainow on imediaconnection.com where he described how modern mobile phones were displacing tablets in the last few months.

Following a long period of tablet expansion, which began in the second half of 2013, a new trend has stepped forward. Online traffic via tablets has been decreasing for the benefit of smartphones. Brandt emphasizes he discovered the trend through his own analyses of customers’ websites, not via large-scale empirical research conducted by an authoritative institution. He did, however, analyze tens – if not hundreds – of websites from five English-speaking countries, both in the B2B and B2C sectors and various industries.

A few interesting observations come to the foreground in Brandt’s article:

Let us begin with some data

  •  While the use of desktops remains on a steady level, people are switching from tablets to smartphones. Brandt first noticed that shift in October 2014, first in the B2B sector, on his customers websites in UK, USA, and then on all the five markets and in the two sectors.
  •  These observations were confirmed by tablet sales results, which dropped by 4 percent in Q4 2014, as compared to the same period 2013. The proportion encompasses all the sales and implies deep changes on the tablet market. The situation becomes much worse when we take a look at the top tablet manufacturers: the sales of Apple devices went down 18 percent, and of those by Samsung dropped by 22 percent.

Key reasons

  •  First of all, the growing size of smartphone screens. They grew on average from 3.5 to 5.2 inches, which nearly doubled their size, thus converging it to the 6-inch screens typical of e-book readers, including nearly all Kindles. E-book readers are similar in this respect to real books, as it is believed to be the ideal size for a document kept in hands while reading.
  • At the same time we witnessed a huge growth in responsive design and mobile websites, so most websites can now handle smaller screens much better than even a year ago. When we combine a larger screen size with a richer online environment, the smartphone becomes a much more attractive Internet access option than it was only six months ago. According to Brandt, the smartphone boom was not influenced by the steady online behavior and connection speed.

for online sales:

  •  Emphasis on improving smaller screen experience. Smartphone sales are exceptionally sensitive to design matters. A website that does not take smartphone users into account and won’t work on a small screen can be faced with conversion of 0.1 percent. Brandt says he witnessed a 4-percent growth of conversions over one night after a customer’s website became responsive or gained a mobile version. So it is possible to have the same conversion rate on smartphones and computers, but only if the website supports 5-inch screens or smaller.
  • Users of tablets with a 10-inch screen will respond in the same way as someone using a computer. Rejections and conversions are usually on the same level, although the two devices differ with respect to order value in online stores where the typical purchase amounts to more than 100 units (dollars, euros or pounds). In this case the average order value on tablets seems to be closer to the level of smartphones. In other words, spending large sums of money feels more comfortable for customers when they are seated in front of a large computer screen or laptop, than when they’re holding a small device in their hands.
  • On websites with lower average order value, there is no significant difference in expenses via different devices. If you are interested in winning average orders worth over 100 units, Brandt recommends using the multi-touch approach, where you raise the customer’s interest via a smartphone, and then the customer gets back to the purchase on his or her computer.

for advertising:

  •  We know that as more and more people shift to smartphones, the multi-touch distribution systems should become key for marketing strategy with higher order value. The message needs to change with different devices, so dedicated mobile websites may turn out more beneficial than responsive designs. Tablet and computer users better respond to content concerning sales protection or other forms of direct response, while smartphone content should focus on building awareness and interest in a product instead of closing the transaction. Here you should focus on mechanisms aiming at bringing the customer back to the website on the computer. Thus the smartphone is becoming the major channel for reach expansion, while the computer (and the tablet) – the major channel for increasing income.
  • Thing is different with smaller orders. With many mobile payment systems being used, minor shopping via smartphones is becoming much easier. Such websites are becoming more profitable and may open up a new niche in online economy, dedicated to impulsive buyers.
  • Adverts should be at the top of the screen in the case of tablets, and at the bottom of the screen in the case of smartphones. The best way to display an advert on tablets is the top of the screen or ¾ down the screen. It is different with smartphones – the best results come from ads placed at the bottom of the screen. In this case visibility increases as we get lower towards the bottom of the screen: an advert displayed in the middle of the page gets worse results than one displayed at ¾ of the screen, but the latter gets worse results than an ad displayed in the bottom quarter of the screen.
  •  The size of the advert is also important, but it’s not so much about the screen size but the shape of the ad and part of the screen it holds. Vertical banners are more visible than horizontal ones, which in turn are more visible than square-shaped ones. The more area of the screen the square banner takes, the least probable it is it will involve the user. The worst thing you can do is to get between the user and the content with a large square pop-up. It was clear pop-ups don’t work as early as in 1990s, when they first appeared on traditional websites, and that hasn’t changed – the user is more interested in finding the close button than reading what the pop-up says.

One day tablets may turn just another stage in history. Those with big screens are similar to laptops, those with smaller, 7-inch screens may simply be exchanged for large smartphones.
Smartphones, however, require dedicated designing efforts to get good sales results. If you are interested in high value buyers, Brandt warns this may be a hard time for you, and you need to focus on multi-touch marketing. If you are interested in lower value orders, focus on popularizing mobile payment systems – and you may expect a real bonanza.

The shift from tablets to smartphones is going to take some more time. This is a new trend in mobile telephony growth and patterns on the market need to stabilize. It creates new opportunities and challenges, but nobody has had enough experience to find the answers to all questions. We must accept the fact we are entering a new territory, and following the strategies from the last year or two may no longer bring the same results. According to Brandt, the owners of both mobile and traditional websites will adapt and will provide better flexibility than the owners of just one “responsive” website.