Retail: Tablets and the user experience

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

All of a sudden, I seem to be seeing tablets and iPads being used as part of the retail environment.

And what’s more, their use doesn’t just look like a gimmick. It feels like a carefully considered enhancement to the shopping experience.

During a recent trip to Singapore a bar – with a pretty extensive and serious wine list – was using iPads as the wine list. Not only did this deliver a benefit to the bar owner in terms of keeping the list up-to-date with what was in or out of stock, but it made the task of browsing, filtering and choosing a wine more helpful and informative to the drinker (in this case, me!).

Also whilst there, we were conducting some research into the use of tablets by relationship managers (RMs) for one of the main banks in Singapore. The bank is trialling the use of tablets to make the explanation of investment options, and wealth planning, easier to understand for their high value customers. The RM sits with the customer, and takes them through their options on the tablet screen. The bank is seen to be forward-thinking and modern, and the RM’s job is made easier as customers can get more engaged and interact with the subject.

While the above examples are a quite simple case of making information more accessible, there are other examples that integrate the tablet into the store experience. A Chinese supermarket is trialling a built-in tablet on their shopping trolleys. The “SmartCart” uses in-store GPS to present shoppers with offers and promotions relevant to the aisle they are in, and helps shoppers search for products and new ideas whilst in store. It also manages loyalty points and vouchers, and can link up with an app on the customer’s smartphone.

Another great example of taking an existing retail experience and making it better is Adidas, who recently unveiled a virtual shoe wall. This embeds a virtual display of training shoes alongside the normal displays of shoe models in store. The touch screen allows shoppers to investigate the shoe in more detail, giving information on the shoe technology, the design and benefits of particular features, in a far more interactive and engaging way than simply holding the shoe. Once decided, you can personalise your choice of colours and add initials to create a shoe unique to you. You can even complete the order on your phone and have your shoes delivered to your home.

This strikes me as a genuine case of improving on the current experience for both retailer and customers. The retailer doesn’t need to have every combination in stock, and doesn’t need all staff to be experts in their full product range (anyone who has visited a sports footwear store on a Saturday knows how unlikely that is!) and as a customer, you can try on the shoes, confirm what size you need, and can then order a bespoke design to be delivered straight to your door, all without queuing at the tills (I’m sure it won’t be long before you only need to place your foot on a screen to be sized, and the whole process becomes digital).

Finally, Burberry have taken this another step further, placing tablets around their flagship London store which display information and suggestions on latest ranges, some of which can be driven by RFID tags in some of their ranges which can drive video content onto the special screens showing the product being modelled on the catwalk.

With more retailers set to test tablet use in store (a recent US study said 30% of retailers expect to trial tablets in some form this year) we’re going to see a lot more ideas over the coming months. Those that succeed will be the ones that make a genuine improvement to an existing shopping experience. I’m looking forward to trying them.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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