It is widely predicted that by the end of 2014, the growth in new tablet sales will have reached the point that they will permanently overtake sales of new PCs.

This is a long way from the launch of the original Apple iPad when many dismissed them as little more than giant phones that you couldn't fit in your pocket.

What has happened to tablets in the last two or three years is remarkable. The attraction of tablets for the average user is obvious: they are easy-to-use, fun and you can do 90% of what you could ever want to do on a computer without having a big ugly desktop PC or laptop cluttering up the place.

Combine this with the attractive price point provided by Android-based tablets and it becomes very clear how they have achieved such massive market penetration.

Impact on ecommerce

The ubiquity of tablets presents interesting design challenges for online retailers. Tablets may display your website in a similar way to desktop PCs, but how people interact with your shop is very different.

In order to give tablet users a good experience, you will need to make sure that all your links, buttons and checkout fields are large enough so that visitors can press on them with a big, imprecise fingertip rather than clicking on them with a pixel-perfect mouse cursor.

You may even choose to go further than that and adopt a responsive design for your website that redisplays intelligently based on whether a customer is holding the tablet horizontally or vertically.

Although potential customers may browse with their tablets, will they feel secure enough to actually submit an order through a handheld device?

Up until recently, the accepted wisdom of many online retailers and ecommerce providers was that when it comes to making an actual transaction, people will go back to their faithful PCs.

New experiences

However, in 2014 that is no longer the case. Most people use their tablets at home, rather than out and about, so they will be perfectly happy to enter credit card information there and then.

And even if people are using their tablets in a coffee shop or on the bus, the ubiquity and confidence in PayPal means that it's easy, quick and secure to make transactions on the go.

Tablets are here to stay, and it is up to online retailers to make sure that everyone has a great experience visiting their shop, no matter what device they use.

If you don't have your own tablet, borrow one from a friend and check how easy (or not) your site is to use with a touch screen.

Look at your Google Analytics data. Under 'Audience' you'll see an option called 'Mobile'. You can use this to see how many people are looking at your site with a mobile device.

Talk to your web designer or ecommerce software provider about what options there are for improving your site's performance on handheld devices.

  • Chris Dicken is an ecommerce consultant at SellerDeck, helping small businesses to make the most out of the internet