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Is the PC dead as a purchasing platform?

By Retail Technology | Wednesday September 4 2013

Although the jury is still out according to the Ask The Expert poll on’s homepage, e-commerce expert Phil Rothwell predicts the death of shopping via PC

As far as online shopping is concerned, Phil Rothwell, marketing director for e-commerce software supplier, SellerDeck thinks the desktop computer will soon be consigned to the bin by our passion for miniaturisation and mobility.

"It’s hard to believe how much the world has changed since Apple introduced the iPhone," Rothwell said. "As a contented BlackBerry user at the time, I remember looking at the Apple’s new invention and thinking that it couldn’t possibly be effective as an email machine. 

"How wrong I was. Within a few hours of my iPhone 3GS in 2009, it seemed pretty clear there was no turning back. And when the rumours started to abound before the iPad launch, it seemed inevitable the device format was going to be a hit. Now, when you look at the mobile devices we were using just a few years ago, they look antiquated."

But Rothwell pointed out that it is not just the mobile phone market that’s changed forever. According to NPD, this year tablet sales will outstrip laptops for the first time and predict that by 2017, they will be outselling them by a factor of six to one. "It’s starting to look as though the traditional desktop, in all its formats, is going the same way as the fax machine," he predicted. 

The impact on the industry as a result has been nothing less than seismic. "With a market share of less than 3%, BlackBerry looks like a dead duck. Dell has underinvested in mobile technology and is in the midst of a battle over its future. Even Microsoft, who announced the impending retirement of Steve Ballmer, looks vulnerable."

Do you get it?

This all poses some significant questions for anyone using the internet to promote and sell products and services. In particular, Rothwell asked, "do you get it?"

"Everyone I meet seems to think they do, but I am not so sure" he said. "Walk into most marketing departments and web development agencies and what you tend to see are rows of desktop computers and laptops. The truth is that, while the consumer experience is rapidly becoming more tablet and smartphone-oriented, the business experience remains largely desktop-based." 

This isn’t helpful, according to Rothwell. "If Steve Jobs proved anything when he launched the iPhone, it was that to make a new format work you have to re-imagine the user experience. That’s why Apple’s iPad succeeded where Microsoft’s tablet computer failed. The necessity of having to develop websites on conventional PCs or Macs implicitly handicaps our perception of the user experience."

This is why most development projects, therefore, focus primarily on the delivery of content that can adapt to the web browser environment in which it is being asked to function. "In many ways this is good; the web browser is a tried and trusted friend that can be counted on to deliver content reliably on pretty much any platform," he continued. "The problem is it was designed for the desktop computer. Fire up Safari on your iPad and the experience you get is identical to a desktop or laptop computer with your finger doing the work of the mouse.

"Of course, there are some websites that attempt to break the mould. The BBC’s homepage offers a swipe-enabled experience and the FT’s innovative web app comes close to mimicking a native table application." But Rothwell's contention is that these are exceptions.

28 days later

So, is the PC dead as a purchasing platform? "You have to say that in the eye of the consumer it most certainly is; they are picking up their sticks and moving on," he continued. "Business, however, is struggling to follow in their footsteps. Three decades of IT experience based on the personal computer has blinded us to the fact that whilst we may talk about the post PC era, we are still struggling to embrace it."

While the desktop lives on in the way we develop and deliver websites and all kinds of other applications, we often remain blind to its presence. "It’s a member of the un-dead distorting the way we view the world and preventing us from creating the kinds of user experiences the tablet era has enabled," Rothwell concluded.

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