Amazon has been making headlines much of September. Wednesday’s long-awaited announcement that they are entering the tablet game with their $199 Amazon Kindle Fire was an appropriate follow-up to news from earlier in the month that the world’s largest Internet store (with revenue of $34 billion in 2010) was testing a major redesign of their website, in short optimizing the shopping experience for tablet devices. Set to feature a bigger search bar, larger buttons and an emphasis on digital goods instead of physical ones, Amazon has not yet said when the new design will be ready for all consumers.

“Amazon is one of the few companies that sees significant e-commerce dollars,” notes Greg Sterling, an Internet and mobile analyst with San Francisco-based Internet2Go—an Opus Research advisory service. “Partly that’s about the brand and the trust they’ve built, but it’s also about usability and what they’ve done for shoppers. This is a chance for Amazon to capitalize on an opportunity to expand its brand and have the type of mindshare in mobile and tablets that really is unprecedented. It’s very forward-thinking, as they have typically been.”

But is it worth the investment? According to the latest International Data Corporation (IDC) research released on September 12, “by 2015, more U.S. Internet users will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices.” It also “forecasts that the impact of smartphone and, especially, media tablet adoption will be so great that the number of users accessing the Internet through PCs will first stagnate and then slowly decline. Western Europe and Japan will not be far behind the U.S. in following this trend.”

While that research speaks for itself, it’s still only 2011, so it’s important to recognize that current consumer behaviors differ whether browsing online on a traditional PC, on a tablet or a smartphone (while also recognizing what the future holds). In early September, Google estimated that 15 percent of searches for holiday gifts and product information in 2011 will come on mobile devices this Black Friday.

“Much of the e-commerce still happens on PC’s,” says Sterling. “But people are increasingly using smartphones and tablets in the shopping process. Smartphones are used namely as a research tool to help in purchasing things later online or when they actually go to the store, and tablets are sort of in that middle ground, because they provide the mobile experience but on a larger screen, which is appealing to many consumers.”

So should you redesign for the tablet and smartphone? Here, we break down the evaluation process, why getting the design right is vital, how to measure cost and how to calculate ROI.


1. Evaluate: Purchase and Usage Patterns

“The first question I ask is why,” says Melody Adhami, co-founder of Plastic Mobile, a Toronto-based mobile experience and design agency. “We avoid people who come in and say that they want every platform, because they’re not really thinking about why they want it and where their customers are. Each of the phones and tablets have a developed demographic and different penetration levels around the world, and you need to know who your users are and where the bulk of them are before redesigning.”

The best way to do that is to evaluate your own data and see how your customers are finding you. Is the majority of your traffic coming via mobile devices? If so, it’s worth a deeper look.

“We’ve got all these people running around with all these different devices, looking at your site in a variety of ways,” Sterling adds. “For Amazon, they’ve been cultivating the mobile buying experience with all of their apps—from actual purchasing to price comparison and more—so they have more evidence than most.”

Similar to evaluating where your own customers are at, it’s important to take a look at where your competitors are and how customers are interacting with those brands. Again, with research suggesting that e-commerce will be bigger on mobile and tablet devices by 2015 than PC’s, is it a forward-thinking investment you’d like to make?


2. Design: Remove the Clutter, Crowdsourcing & Limit the Clicks

Remove the Clutter. Designing your mobile or tablet-friendly website is not at all the same as designing your traditional website.  According to The Wall Street Journal article describing Amazon’s redesign, “The new site emphasizes Amazon's digital goods over its physical ones. On the old site, a column of buttons leads users to both electronic content and physical goods, such as toys, clothing and sporting gear. On the new site, a single row of buttons advertises only digital books, music, video and software.”

What works on a traditional website is typically a data-rich environment where you can click around, find the products you want and add them to your cart. If you aren’t focused on e-commerce, you still want to be a solutions-provider to keep users from going to a competitor’s site. On a tablet or smartphone, it’s about simplicity and ease of use.

The small screen or smart phone is a design discipline which is healthy for companies,” Sterling adds. “It really forces them to think about what’s most important and how they can get rid of the clutter. A lot of sites might be full of Flash, galleries and gates, but mobile imposes a kind of discipline that is very worthwhile in that you need to re-evaluate what is most important to your business.”

Utilize Social Media. As you evaluate what design elements are most important, it’s also a great opportunity to involve your already loyal consumer by utilizing social media. Your friends, fans and followers are typically people who already like or utilize your services, so talking to them and figuring out the most important elements as they browse the mobile web is a great way to show that you care. Then you can show them a product and let them react to it, to figure out what you’re doing right and wrong. You’re unlikely to get it right the first try, but crowdsourcing and involving your customer will give them an added equity with your brand.

Limit the Clicks.One of the greatest things that Amazon has working in its favor is that it has credit card numbers on file,” says Sterling. “Something as small as that can’t be underestimated in terms of purchase. Can you imagine putting credit card numbers into smartphones? The fact that my credit card is right there takes steps out of the process. When you survey people, you often hear about security and people feeling insecure buying from their phones. But to me it’s much more about usability than security, because credit cards have such great liability protection now. So you create these better user experiences, reduce the clicks, and it reduce the barriers when it comes to making transactions.”


3. How to Evaluate Cost

The beauty of design or app development for tablets and smartphones is that it is typically cheaper than a conventional PC design. Prices can obviously vary based on the depth, feature set and interactivity you’re looking for in the tablet or smartphone design, but in all likelihood that will be considerably less complicated than your standard site.

“It’s can cost anywhere from $15,000 to well over $100,000 dollars for some really robust designs,” Sterling says. “I think cost partly involves who you contract with. A bigger shop may have more overhead, where if you work with a few independent designers, you might find a better deal. It really depends on the features you want to include, though. If you’re a shopping app and you build in barcode scanners, cameras to take pictures, and more, that’s some heavy-duty functionality. Again, you need to figure out what the experience you want to provide is and what the requirements of your site are that you need to bring over into a mobile experience. That will let you build the best experience for your money.”


4. Measuring ROI: Engagement and Brand Loyalty

If you’re in the e-commerce space, it’s a matter of looking at transactions and purchases to evaluate the success of a redesign in terms of ROI. But for many companies (and specifically those without an e-commerce focus), measuring engagement and brand loyalty is a great way to determine success. You should be evaluating how many people are engaging on the site versus engagement within the tablet or smartphone. You can also track phone calls that come in via mobile and tablet devices. When people are interacting with you, see where and what they’re saying.

Another way to measure ROI is via the brand loyalty you create on the tablet and smartphone. While the Internet breeds varied clicking patterns (the old adage is that a competitor is always a click away), tablet and smartphone behavior tends to show more loyalty. Marketers must ask themselves whether their brand is in the right place at the right time with the right information.

“There’s a branding opportunity in the mobile space that doesn’t exist online where there are so many more distractions and clutter,” says Sterling. “If you are loyal to an app or brand on your phone or tablet, then you likely launch that app and have a direct relationships with that brand in a considerably different manner than you would when doing a navigational search through a site on a PC. But you need to remain relevant.”

According to August statistics from Pew Internet Research, “one third of American adults (35%) own a smartphone of some kind, and these users take advantage of a wide range of their phones’ capabilities. Fully nine in ten smartphone owners use text messaging or take pictures with their phones, while eight in ten use their phone to go online or send photos or videos to others. Many activities—such as downloading apps, watching videos, accessing social networking sites or posting multimedia content online—are almost entirely confined to the smartphone population.”