The Phablet: What It Is, Who Uses It and How it Should Fit Your Mobile Commerce Strategy

By Leo Strupczewski

November 13, 2014

Phablet & Mobile CommerceThe phablet: not quite a smartphone, not quite a tablet.

Measuring in with a screen size between 5.3 and 5.7 inches, these devices were long ridiculed in the United States for being too large for someone to put to their ear. In fact, on the large end, they’re far closer to the size of smaller tablets (roughly 7 inches) than they are to the size of the smallest smartphones (generally 3.5 inches).

Now, they’re gaining traction.

For consumers, the “tweener” status is part of the appeal. For ecommerce businesses, it’s about to become a conundrum. That’s because, when it comes to conversion rates, the phablet’s significantly larger screen size does not translate to significantly higher conversion rates.

In fact, those shoppers taking advantage of larger screen real estate (for our definition, anything larger than 5.3 inches) converted just .94% of the time in Q3 2014—a rate that’s just .6% better than conversion rates on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S (.88%), which feature one of the smaller screen sizes on the market and, when combined, account for more than 40% of all mobile commerce traffic.

Though phablet conversion rates are slightly higher than any other smartphone screen size category, they’re not even close to tablet conversion rate for the quarter: 2.42%.

A Growing Category

The performance gap between phablet and tablet will pose a challenge for ecommerce businesses.

Here’s why:

In the last year, tablets have slowed in sales and slowed in traffic share. Stealing those visits is the smartphone, which grew its ecommerce traffic share 66% YOY in Q3 2014. A key reason for that is the phablet, which between Q3 2013 and Q3 2014, grew its share of smartphone ecommerce traffic from 3.1 million ecommerce sessions to 10.6 million ecommerce sessions, a nearly 250% increase.

Combine those two data points with a recent Accenture survey, which reported that 48% of consumers planning to buy a smartphone this year plan to opt for a phablet, and you can see how quickly the landscape is changing.

For ecommerce businesses, the implication is clear: The tablet, and its desktop-like conversion rates, won’t be keeping your mobile commerce performance afloat for much longer.

What’s at Stake

Though phablets don’t bridge the gap between smartphones and tablets when it comes to conversion rates, they do generally sit between the two devices when it comes to other key ecommerce metrics.

In Q3 2014, for instance, phablet AOVs were far closer to tablets than to smartphones.

And while they weren’t “right in the middle” when it comes to bounce rates, average page views and add to cart rates, phablet did outperform the average smartphone in those categories.

One place the larger screen devices mimicked their smaller smartphone counterparts? Cart abandonment. Both phablets and the smartphone category on the whole had cart abandonment rates of nearly 83%. For tablets, that figure dropped to 71.75%.

Who Owns a Phablet, Anyway?

According to Flurry, a mobile app advertising and analytics platform, phablet users over-index in five persona categories when compared to the average smartphone user:

  • Business traveler (1.5X)
  • Business professional (1.5X)
  • Bookworms (2X)
  • Entertainment enthusiasts (2.1X)
  • Social influencers (2.5X)

That breakdown correlates with a report from Opera Mediaworks, which earlier this year, reported that phablet users spend about 54% of their time on social networks (compared to roughly 30% for regular smartphone users and less than 20% for tablet users).

Owners of the super-sized smartphones also tend to use their devices the most between 9 a.m. and noon, but are more willing to engage with ads during evening hours (specifically between 8 and 10 p.m.).

Adding to the complexity of the phablet owner (for US-based ecommerce businesses, at least) is the fact that their popularity isn’t primarily in the Americas. Rather, phablets have a stronghold in Asia, where the larger screen sizes and stylus pens aid those countries that have script-based alphabets and also signify a certain status level.

In fact, Mixpanel reported, phablets have 29% and 31% of the Android smartphone market share in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

What’s all this mean?

Well, for one, simply targeting phablet users by device type may not have the impact you’d hope. Given the international nature of the device popularity, plus the disparate interests (and, thus, referring traffic sources), marketers will need to dig one or two levels deeper.

And that will be necessary if ecommerce businesses hope to move the needle on phablet conversion rates.

Leo Strupczewski is a former Content Marketing Manager for Monetate. A former journalist, Leo has helped media companies, professional services firms, and business-to-consumer brands identify stories that resonate with their target audiences and to integrate those stories into an organization’s business objectives. He is passionate about technology, but owns a typewriter.

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