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How the Tablet Has Transformed the Retail Experience

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With 60% of North American online consumers expected to own a tablet by 2017, according to Forrester Research, it was inevitable that retailers would take advantage of the unique capabilities the tablet offers. Portability, touch computing and stunning visual design deliver unprecedented virtual shopping experience to consumers and are the main reasons for the proliferation of "virtual shopping."

Unlike window shopping, "tablet shopping" allows consumers to parallel task while browsing products and sales at the same time, thereby unlocking countless casual shopping hours. In a New York Times article, Claire Cain Miller noted, "People are more likely to use tablets while they are in a shopping mood, like lounging on the couch. And their bigger screens make shopping easier than it is on smartphones and in some cases easier than on computers, because shoppers can zoom in or drag items to their carts with their fingers."

Touch computing enables consumers to quickly browse merchandise in a convenient and engaging way. Consumers can browse products and offers at home, select some favorites, and then head to the store to buy the actual items. According to a Vision Critical study featured in the Harvard Business Review, 41% surveyed said they practice what they call "reverse show-rooming" - browsing online and then purchasing in stores. In fact, 36% of Pinterest users under 35 said they bought an item in-store after pinning, re-pinning or liking it.

In a 2013 report, RIS News found nearly a third of retailers have already begun testing tablets on the sales floor, up 5% from 2012. The number of retailers that are fully deployed has doubled and is now nearly 11%. More than a quarter (26.8%) say they will deploy more than five per store. For these respondents, the future of tablets in retail has arrived.

Here are a few interesting ways retailers are already using tablets to enhance in-store commerce and the customer experience:

  • As part of their 'Shop Your Way program', Sears rolled out tablets and mobile devices to Sears stores across the country, introduced mobile checkout to many locations and implemented a "Return in 5, Exchange in 5" capability that allows members to fill out product return information online and drop off or exchange the item they want to return at its Merchandise Pick Up area within five minutes.
  • Retailers such as Nordstrom and Macy's use tablets and mobile devices to make on-the-spot sales and check companywide product inventory instantly. Puma, Barney's and Sephora are also among various retailers who have given employees tablets to ease the checkout process.
  • Target is using iPads in their baby and beauty sections of stores in Illinois. For the baby section, several iPads loaded with content from Johnson & Johnson's BabyCenter have also been added to provide shoppers easy access to relevant information while in-store. Target previously piloted its Beauty Concierge program, which included the addition of trained beauty and skincare experts and iPads.
  • Belk, a department store with 300+ locations in the Southern states, is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a multi-year 600 million reinvestment in the business that includes a massive IT overhaul will new POS equipment, including wireless tablets for sales staff, which will provide insight into a customer's purchase history.

Retail stores aren't wasting any time and are increasingly embracing tablets to boost sales, enhance brand experiences, and build brand loyalty in some exciting ways. It is no surprise that traditional brick-and-mortar stores are upping the level of technology in their locations to enhance their in-store shopping experience.

Shopping behaviors continue to change, and as new options through tablets are introduced to consumers, they are able to seamlessly move through the entire shopping journey, from browsing and discovery at home, through shopping and purchasing in the retail store.

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