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Are Tablets a Game Changer?

By Nigel Hill, Founder of TLF Research and Editor of Customer Insight Magazine

At the time of writing (July 2012), 13% of UK households now own at least one tablet computer or e-reader compared with only 2% in March 2011, and an additional 17% intend to buy one in the next year. According to Ofcom’s annual ‘Communications Market Report’, entertainment is the main reason for buying a tablet, having been cited by 56 per cent of owners. Next on the list was easy internet access (53 per cent) followed by portability (52 per cent). 45% of tablet buyers admitted they had no particular need for the device but just wanted to treat themselves.  Needless to say, this huge increase in adoption rate has led to a spate of research into tablets’ ownership and usage driven by companies’ growing interest in this market and communication channel. 

Ownership profile
Ofcom report that tablet uptake is currently highest amongst families with children and 45-54 year olds (42%). Over half live in London, the Home Counties or Manchester and over two thirds are ABC1. In line with this affluent ownership (and the 45% of buyers who didn’t need one), upmarket tablet users are "spontaneous and materialistic", being 79 per cent more likely than other upmarket adults to spend money without thinking – clearly an audience worth chasing! Fully functional tablets such as i-Pads have a male bias, whereas women are more likely to own an e-readers such as a Kindle.

Tablet Usage
InMobi, the largest independent mobile advertising network, and Mobext, the mobile marketing network of Havas Digital, recently released the results of their global consumer research, ‘The Role of Tablets in the Consumer Sales Journey’. Conducted on mobile and tablet devices, the survey examined the media consumption habits of over 8,400 respondents across seven different markets and demonstrated that consumers are spending increasing amounts of time on mobile connected devices, with tablets strongly influencing purchasing decisions as consumers find new ways to research and interact with brands. The key take-outs include:

  • 69% of tablet users have shopped via their device in the last 30 days 
  • 7 out of 10 users regularly use their tablet and watch TV at the same time 
  • The average number of in-home devices is 9.7, up from 8.7 in 2010 
  • 44% of tablet owners would not want to be separated from their tablet 
  • Over 50% of tablet owners spend at least an hour a day accessing media content 
  • 22% of tablet owners have shopped in physical stores less since getting their tablet 
  • 20m tablets were shipped in Q1 2012 
  • Apple dominates the market with a 68% share 
  • There are 1m+ Zeebox users in the UK (30 min average session) 
  • 51% use a tablet to fill what would previously have been 'dead time' 
  • 49% of respondents share their tablet with family members 
  • 42% said that their tablet has revolutionised the way they communicate with friends/colleagues.
  • 63% of tablet users think it is easier to access media content on a tablet than on a mobile or laptop/desktop.

According to Adobe’s ‘Digital Index Report’, one tablet generates as many website visits as four smartphones, so although there are far fewer tablets around, by March this year they already accounted for 4.3% of website hits compared with 6.1% on smartphones. Adobe predicts that internet traffic on tablets will overtake smartphones by the beginning of 2013. However, organisations mustn’t lose sight of the fact that PCs/laptops still generate the lion’s share of website visits – 19 times more than tablets in Q1 2012. This isn’t surprising in view of the vast installed base and the fact that shipments of PCs/laptops still considerably out-number tablets – a lead that may even increase from the end of October with the launch of Windows 8 and ultrabooks. 

Tablet users are buyers
Tablet users do more things on their tablet (an average of 3.9 activities chosen from a list of six broad options) compared with laptop (3.6) or smartphones (2.7). They also use their tablet more than any other device to buy stuff. 46% preferred to make purchases on their tablet compared with 41% on a PC/laptop and only 9% on a smartphone. And 69% of tablet owners had actually done some shopping on their tablet in the last 30 days, with almost 10% of these happy to use it for a 'big ticket' purchase, in contrast with smartphone users who typically use their device for smaller, more functional purchases. Moreover, 20% of tablet users claim to shop less in bricks and mortar stores since purchasing their device. These facts, together with the half of tablet owners who share the device with family members illustrate the value of tablets for companies selling products or services that are often family decisions. Joint family decision making includes items such as holidays, tourist attractions, eating out and takeaways as well as bigger decisions such as cars and housing. However, according to Adobe, PC/laptop conversion rates remain much higher for any shopping activity that involves a significant amount of research, whereas tablets are more likely to be used for passive consumption of content or for more repetitive, routine purchases or information gathering. Laptops/PCs therefore remain well ahead for anything where consumers lack expertise such as buying a smart TV, anything where they make multiple comparisons, such as holidays or, to a lesser extent, purchases where they rely on peer reviews. So, for example, deciding on an up-market restaurant for a special occasion (especially if it will be a first visit) is more likely to be researched and booked on a laptop/PC, but takeaway owners should make sure that they have a very tablet friendly website. Interestingly, tablet owners are very likely to use their device for repeated inter-actions with financial services providers.

Impact on traditional media
The research also revealed that 72% of respondents watch TV while using their tablet. This helps to explain the growing popularity of Zeebox. Somewhat surprisingly, 20% of owners owners claim to watch more TV since buying their tablet, so maybe mobile internet won’t be bad for the TV industry. Interestingly the UK showed the highest levels of 'dual-screening' across the globe. 

This is consistent with the fact that tablet usage peaks between 7.30 and 10.30 in the evening, when owners use them more than PCs/laptops or smartphones. During the daytime, however, PC/laptop usage is twice that of tablets, suggesting that BYOD (bring your own device) remains far from universal.

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