Retailers Hope iPad Will Inspire Shoppers

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APPLEAt a time when shopping has lost most of its glamour, the star power of Apple’s iPad has retailers’ hearts beating faster.

Merchants from Gucci to J.C. Penney are experimenting with ways to use electronic tablets in their stores to boost sales and dazzle jaded shoppers.

No retailer has the formula quite figured out yet, so most have limited their tests to just a few stores.

But experts predict that within the next year iPads
and other electronic tablets will make their way into all manner of
merchants, from supermarkets to mattress stores to luxury jewelers.

“Everybody has something in development,” said Ken Nisch, chairman of JGA, a retail design firm in Southfield, Mich. “This is not going to be a novelty. It’s going to be a sea change in how retailers transact and interact with customers.”

Since Apple Inc. unveiled the iPad in April, a spate of retailers including Burberry, Puma, Things Remembered, Converse
and Nordstrom, to name just a few, have rolled out tests of tablet
computers at select stores around the country. The move is all part of
retailers’ response to how consumers are shopping everywhere ? online,
on their smart phones and in the stores.

Retailers are using iPads as mobile catalogs so
sales clerks and shoppers can browse inventory not available on store
shelves. They are fastening the tablets to counters so shoppers can
design their own products. They are arming sales associates with the
electronic clipboards to gather customer data. And they are testing the
device’s potential as a portable cash register.

“It is taking retail outside the four walls to where the customers are,” said Sandeep Bhanote, CEO of Global Bay Mobile Technologies, a South Plainfield, N.J.-based mobile retail software firm. “You’re talking about changing the way you do business. That’s what this is all about.”

Make Up For Ever, a unit of French luxury
conglomerate LVMH, was among the first retailers to give the technology
a try. The cosmetic company set up iPad stations in October at its
boutiques inside Sephora stores in New York’s Soho neighborhood; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Las Vegas.

The iPad is fixed to a gondola and allows shoppers
to update their Facebook pages, tweet about their shopping experience
and access face charts for browsing makeup combinations. Eventually
customers will be able to upload a digital photo of their own faces for
a virtual makeover.

Jessica Hair-Anderson, a Make Up For Ever store manager in Costa Mesa, said having Apple’s hot gadget on the counter adds a “cool factor” that helps attract younger shoppers.

“When people come into the boutique, it’s all very
new and exciting visually,” said Hair-Anderson. “It also makes our jobs
easier, because if we are busy with another customer, it gives our
clients something to do, so it doesn’t feel like they’re waiting.”

The Make Up For Ever pilots have been successful
enough at capturing shoppers’ attention that the firm is expanding the
iPad stations beyond its three in-store Sephora boutiques to its
traditional beauty counters at about 60 Sephora stores nationwide this
fall.

“It enables us to create a connection between the
brand and a client in the stores where we don’t have our own staffs,”
said Gilles Kortzagadarian, vice president of retail for Make Up For
Ever. “We can tell that clients are spending more time in the store and
are interacting with the brand, so it can only be good for the
business.”

Several other iPad pilots are headed to stores,
including one from British clothing merchant AllSaints Spitalfields.
AllSaints first installed iPads at its U.S. flagship in New York’s Soho neighborhood, which opened last year, said Jennifer Walker, vice president of marketing for AllSaints in North America. All new U.S. stores will have the devices as the firm strives to “stay at the forefront of innovative store design,” she said.

Things Remembered, the nation’s largest retailer of
personalized gifts, launched an iPad pilot in November at 26 of its
600-plus stores.

The Highland Heights, Ohio-based
company is testing the iPad in different configurations. Some devices
are mounted on shelves, while others are located in separate stations
in the middle of the store. Shoppers can scroll through thousands of
messages and designs for engraving on photo frames, charms and boxes.
Later this year, the device will be upgraded so customers can view the
completed design before they order.

“We knew we wanted to improve the customer experience and make it more fun to shop for messaging,” said Amy Myers,
vice president of creative services. “We think it’s really going to
make it a fun experience, and that’s what you want customers to feel
when they’re shopping. It’s a blast.”

Likewise, Nordstrom is testing the iPad at its
bridal shops and special-occasion dress departments at several
full-line stores. Sales associates rely on the iPad as a personal
shopper, helping customers search for dresses in colors and styles that
aren’t available in the store.

The Seattle-based retailer is measuring the iPad’s efficiency as a roving cash register at some Nordstrom Rack outlet stores, including a store in Burbank, Calif.,
that opened last fall. Shoppers were able to purchase products without
having to stand in the traditional check-out line, and they could log
on to Facebook and tell their friends what they were buying.

“We’re now in the process of developing additional
mobile capabilities on our sales floor, including testing mobile
checkout and equipping our sales people with better tools at
point-of-sale,” said Blake Nordstrom, president of
the department store chain, in a February earnings conference call. “We
should be able to implement this on a broader scale later this year,
and we will continue to explore ways to make our sales floor more
responsive to the mobile customer.”

J.C. Penney announced
last month that it will roll out iPads to 50 of its fine jewelry
departments, giving shoppers access to ring styles, cuts, sizes and
metals not in the store and allowing them to compare ring features side
by side on the iPad.

Converse and Puma are using iPads in their stores to allow shoppers to design their own shoes. Gucci
installed iPad stations temporarily in some stores last fall to
showcase its social media site Gucci Connect and to promote its custom
handbags.

Deloitte predicts that in 2011 more than 1 in 4 electronic tablets sold will be bought by businesses. And the New York-based
consulting firm forecasts the figure to rise in 2012 and beyond.
Retailers are among the most likely early adopters of the device,
Deloitte said in a January report, projecting that retailers will
purchase and deploy more electronic tablets than any other industry
this year.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Jon Watschke, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates.
“So when a salesperson shows a customer the item they want on a
brilliant screen like an iPad, that’s much more compelling. If
someone’s on the fence, you can show it on the iPad and say, ‘We’ll
have it delivered to your home tomorrow.’ “

To be sure, many retailers aren’t ready to bring the
iPad into their stores. Nordstrom converted all of its full-line stores
to Wi-Fi in November, but an estimated 60 percent of retail companies
lack the wireless infrastructure to use mobile technology in their
stores, said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Miami-based Retail Systems Research.

The iPad’s price tag, which ranges from $499 to $829, also is a sticking point as retailers coming out of the recession try to maintain cost controls, analysts said.

Apple has sold nearly 15 million iPads in the first
nine months since its April debut, accounting for an estimated 90
percent of the electronic tablet market. But some retailers are waiting
for cheaper versions as rival devices from Motorola, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and others come onto the market.

For now, the cachet of the iPad is resonating most frequently with upscale retailers.

Burberry, the British retailer known for its $1,000 trench coats, has iPads on hand in select stores to allow customers to view its London
runway shows and place orders on the spot. And luxury watchmaker
Tourneau is developing an iPad as a virtual watch tray for its stores,
according to Donald McNichol, vice president of digital for the New York-based company.

“I really see the benefit going first to high-end retail,” said Ken Burke, founder of MarketLive Inc., a Petaluma, Calif.-based
based e-commerce software firm. “It’s going to make for a more
intelligent salesperson and a closer relationship between sales
associate and consumer. When you walk into the store, the sales
associate is going to know a lot about you. All their customer
information and buying pattern information will be at their fingertips.”

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.