2011 could easily be crowned “The Year of the Tablet.” This year, we’ve watched tablet ecommerce come into its own. Tablets have redefined how consumers interact with their favorite brands, and have gained the ire of those CMOs tasked with solving the “tablet problem.”

What’s the “tablet problem,” you ask? Well, just as tablets are taking over ecommerce, most websites have been woefully slow to adapt and begin catering to tablet-centric shoppers. Thankfully, that’s beginning to change—and the 10 websites below are leading the pack.

#10: The Financial Times

You can help tablet visitors find what they want on your website in a number of different ways (which I’ll address in an upcoming blog post). The Financial Times decided to create a mobile app, and then to direct visitors to that app using a lightbox that only shows on tablets. It’s a simple solution, but it works. If more websites were taking this first step to cater to their tablet readership, well, the web would be a better place.

The most interesting thing about the FT mobile app, though, is that it’s entirely browser-based. This means the FT app avoids the Apple app store—and the 30% cut Apple takes on all subscription-based sales, something no doubt the makers of the FT app were considering when they decided on this approach. The FT app also allows readers to download an entire issue and read it offline, a rarity for a mobile web app and a boon for their readers.

#9: QVC

QVC has chosen to address the “tablet problem” from a different angle: they’ve created a website that looks good on desktops, laptops, AND tablets. QVC accomplishes this through technographic targeting. If a visitor’s screen size is larger (i.e., if they’re not using a tablet), QVC displays more content to the left and right of the main page. If someone’s on a tablet, however, they see the regular site.

#8: Publishing Executive

Choice reigns supreme at Publishing Executive. Instead of directing you to their mobile website automatically, they give you a choice. Either you can choose to visit the full site, the mobile site, or download the iPad app—and then Publishing Executive remembers your preference for the next time you visit.

#7: Wired

Wired wants its visitors to subscribe to their iPad edition. So, when a visitor using an iPad first visits the website, they show a beautifully designed lightbox that takes up the entire window, urging them to subscribe.

As with all well-designed tablet websites, Wired has a specific goal in mind for their visitors. Wired wants you to subscribe to their iPad edition … just as The Financial Times (#10) wants you to download their mobile web app … and just as Nike (#1) wants you to purchase a pair of shoes. This is an important point. For your tablet website to be successful, have one specific goal in mind and no more. Guide your visitors to that goal—and when it’s completed, take them to another.

#6: Yahoo!

Yahoo! isn’t exactly known for their stellar user interface. But on tablets, they shine. Pay special attention to their tablet-ready image slideshow, which responds beautifully to gestures and touch. When you tap on any of the stories featured in the slideshow, a lightbox opens the story full screen. It’s a beautiful way of displaying information, but unfortunately, the tablet-friendly interface is confined to the slideshow, with other sections of the website showing the standard Yahoo! interface.

#5: ESPN

ESPN has redesigned their tablet experience from the ground up, with the new design easily surpassing the standard computer view. What’s more, ESPN acknowledges their tablet visitors with a banner that proclaims, “Welcome to ESPN for your tablet”—a nice touch.

#4: Terra

Terra is a Spanish website that takes the tablet experience to a whole new level. Their site has been completely redesigned for tablets, and delivers an unparalleled user experience that’s more akin to flipping through a magazine than it is to browsing a website.

Three things in particular make Terra’s site stand out. First, they deliver information in a touch-friendly format that’s similar to the well-received app Flipboard. Second, their image and video slideshows make the most of the tablet interface and screen. Third, Terra displays ads magazine-style, with a full-page ad appearing every five pages or so.

#3: We Are Hunted

At first glance, We Are Hunted’s musical discovery website looks similar on both desktop and tablet. Yet, their tablet version has some added features that make all the difference—and these added features have everything to do with touch.

Tablets make the web touchable. The best tablet websites, We Are Hunted included, take advantage of this fact. They make it easy to swipe from one part of the site to another, displaying additional content. They have rich, interactive ads, and they make other features easily tap-able. Remember, for your website’s tablet experience to shine, make sure to integrate touch.

#2: The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe capitalizes on one of the web’s latest trends: responsive design. Responsive design uses CSS to build websites that respond dynamically to the width of the screen, adjusting to your experience whether you’re on a tablet, mobile phone, or desktop computer. Websites on the bleeding edge of what’s cool—like Ethan Marcotte, Atlason, Warface, and Hanging Up The Moon—have shown what’s possible for years, but thankfully, responsive design is a trend that’s quickly making it into the mainstream, with such wonderful examples as that provided by The Boston Globe.

#1. Nike

Nike has the best tablet experience of any website we surveyed, by far. Not only is their site drop-dead gorgeous, but it provides easy, touch-friendly access to all of their products, making for an unforgettable shopping experience. As a tablet website, it’s near perfect.

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