by Unboxed Staff | March 18, 2011 | 7 Min Read

How Using Tablets Is Turning the Tables in Retail Stores

Last Friday the iPad 2 appeared in retail stores nationwide—for a few hours, anyway. By Saturday afternoon, less than a day after its much-lauded landing, the iPad 2 had sold out at Apple, Best Buy, Target, WalMart, AT&T and Verizon Wireless stores. Times Tech editor David Pogue suggests that the iPad’s appeal is more emotional than rational.” The left brain says, “You don’t need it—it’s just a big iPod Touch.” Meanwhile, the right brain says, “Ooh” and hands over your credit card. Our emotional attraction to the shiny new Apple tablet makes sense when you think about it: the iPad was—and still is—marketed as a cool gadget for personal use. As economist and change guru Patrick J. Howie argues, today’s tablets are “basically expensive video game consoles used . . .to access the Internet, email, and books. But the true potential of the tablet is . . . the potential to improve our productivity.”

Putting the iPad (and Its Rivals) to Work

Despite all the complaints about its impracticality, the iPad isn’t merely fun and games—just ask Steve Jobs, who will be the first to remind you that just six months after the original iPad launched, 65% of Fortune 100 companies, including Lowes, P&G and Novartis, were already deploying or piloting the iPad. Since then, we’ve seen two important trends. First, the market has been inundated with at least a hundred new tablets many of which are Android-based and Flash-friendly.  Second, retailers nationwide have been jumping on the mobile bandwagon, equipping their store associates with iPads and other tablets. Among the retailers piloting iPads on the store floor are J.C. Penney, Gucci, Burberry, Puma, Things Remembered, Converse, and Nordstrom. Best Buy, the nation’s leading electronics retailer, is deploying Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, the original iPad and Motorola’s Xoom as part of the company’s “Connected Store” program. In a sense, these tablet tests are a delayed response to the way consumers have been shopping for some time now—researching with their smart phones while browsing in stores. Armed with their tablets, associates have as much or more information than their high-tech customers. The iPads are used as mobile catalogs, allowing salesclerks and shoppers to browse inventory not available on store shelves. Although most programs are pilots right now, experts anticipate that by 2012 iPads and other tablets will make their way into all types of retailers, from supermarkets to luxury jewelers.

Before “Tablet” Was Cool

Long ago (ok, in the summer of 2008) in a place that is no longer, and before the iPad was even a twinkle in the eye of Steve Jobs, the founders of Unboxed Technology pioneered the use of tablets in retail stores. Our President & CEO, Brian Leach, our COO, Dave Romero, and our VP of Technology, Kevin Leetham, worked closely with Microsoft to develop a system that could extract product information, inventory data, promotions, and other information, then deliver it in a friendly interface to a tablet toted around by the store associate. The results were compelling—and not unlike those that today’s iPad pilots are reporting: We at Unboxed are currently working on both iPad and tablet PC interfaces for deployment in national retail settings. (In other words, we’re doing some really cool stuff that you may soon see in the hands of associates at a store near you.) The iPad and its formidable rivals are lighter, faster, more versatile, and, yes, better looking than the netbooks circa 2008. And they’re about one-fifth of the price. And do we have to say it? They’re really cool. Although the information they convey appeals to the left brain, the look and feel of new iPad (and many of the iPadversaries) woo the right brain. Both associates and customers are drawn to them, which is exactly what you want in a retail setting: associates and customers standing together, oohing and aahing at the stuff you sell. Well we can’t promise oohing or aahing, but we can create some smart, beautiful tools to equip and embolden your sales force. If you want to upgrade your retail business to Mobile 2.0, drop us a line or just give us a call at 804.888.6222.

  • Store associates saw their confidence, credibility, and versatility soar.
  • Customers enjoyed a more consistent experience.
  • New hires could get up-to-speed faster.
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