By Joe Skorupa
Are you ready for the post-tablet retail world? It will arrive by the end of the year. The sprint to deploy tablets is rolling out at a faster rate in retail than any other technology, including the Internet. Terms like game-changer, paradigm shift and tipping point are too over used in the technology world to be meaningful. But tablets are the real deal. Here’s why.
The best way to describe the booming adoption of tablets and their influence in the retail industry is to avoid statistics. Instead I’m going to switch gears and offer up three quotes I heard recently, which shed light on different aspects of the tablet boom.
“Tablets are a Swiss Army knife of capabilities,” Alan Dabbiere, CEO of AirWatch
“I never met a CEO that didn’t have an iPad,” Mike Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy
“The adoption rate of tablets in stores is happening faster than any technology I have ever tracked, including connecting to the Internet in stores,” Greg Buzek, president of IHL Group
The clear picture these quotes convey is that tablet capabilities are broad and deep. They appeal to everyone, including senior-level management, which puts winning budget approval on a fast track. And they deliver store-level benefits that are so compelling that adoption plans conveniently fit and augment existing business models.
Tablet Evolution, Tablet Revolution
Although the success of tablet technology is inevitable, it was not an overnight sensation. Microsoft promoted a family of tablet products in 2000, but few remember them now, especially after the spectacular launch of the iPad in 2010.
In just two years the questions shifted from "Are tablets as good as they seem?" to “Should we deploy tablets?” to “How fast can we deploy them?”
So, why the headlong rush? The reason is simple: shoppers walk into stores loaded with information from social networks, retailers’ own websites, competitive websites, product and price comparison engines, and mobile apps, some of which enable them to order products from online-only retailers while they are right in the store.
As a result, retailers have been made to feel like they are sending associates onto the sales floor armed with knives for a gunfight. Tablets level the playing field.
A strong secondary reason is that retailers need to respond to the impact of the consumerization effect on technology. Consumers love personal mobile devices and they want retailers to share their enthusiasm while offering new levels of convenience and service.
And let’s not discount the fear of risk – the risk of losing sales and customer engagement. Retailers that don’t engage shoppers with tablets risk losing them to retailers who do.
The In-Store Experience
If anyone needs proof that tablets are a game-changer they need look no further than the RIS News
report from January 2012, “Retail Embraces Tablets
,” which found that only 35% of retailers say they “have no plans to either test or deploy tablets by the end of 2012.” This means that nearly two thirds of retailers have already taken their first steps toward initiating a tablet deployment, a major shift in a remarkably short period of time.
Retailers that have jumped on the tablet bandwagon include Macy’s in a broad 350-store program, JCPenney (JCP) in a big 120-store initiative, and Best Buy in what it calls the “Connected Store” project.
Unlike previous technology booms, where retailers struggled to measure ROI, there is no doubt in retailers’ minds that tablets will pay back investment. When asked in the recent RIS tablet report to name what is driving retailer plans to deploy them 51.9% said sales floor support and another 46.3% said increase comp-store sales. These are ROI-producing benefits.
They also indicate that POS functionality is one of the keys to tablet success in stores, but it is not the only one. In fact, the top function retailers plan to deploy on tablets is inventory/product look up (69.8%), which will enable tablets to better serve customers when products are out of stock.
If tablets accomplish nothing more than reducing the out-of-stock problem by a few percentage points through save-the-sale functionality, then they will achieve ROI many times over. Save-the-sale functionality converts potentially disappointed shoppers into buyers by locating the product in the warehouse or at another store and arranging for the product to be shipped or picked up at a location of the buyer’s choice.
Two additional points about the appeal of tablets: 1. They are considered cool by shoppers, and 2. They enable retailers to cut back investment in expensive fixed-station POS units.
It is amazing how frequently the term “cool factor” comes up when talking to retailers about tablets. As a result many retailers believe tablet deployments are a convenient and strategic way to update or refresh the store experience.
And, yes,tablets can pay for themselves in some scenarios. One tier-one retailer I know is deploying two tablets to each store, and the tablets are considered so useful that many stores are requesting more. Headquarters encourages these requests but will only send two more tablets for every fixed POS unit removed.
Tablets are both an offensive and defensive weapon for retailers, also a sales tool, a productivity tool and a customer satisfaction driver. By next year no retailer will be without them.