What Will Retailers Do with 2.7 Million Tablets?

If anyone needed more proof that mobile is the hottest trend in retail, RIS News reported this week that the percentage of consumers who made purchases with mobile phones doubled from 2010 to 2011, from 9% to 18%. STORES devoted almost its entire November issue to mobility, too. These are just a couple of additional proof points for the meteoric rise of consumer mobility, which Retail Systems Research describes as the “most galvanizing force (in a positive way) we’ve ever seen in retail.”

Mobile technology is changing the retail landscape in ways that haven’t been seen since the rise of e-commerce. However, the trend that’s captured my attention lately is what’s happening with mobile devices inside the store – and more specifically, how retailers are using smartphones and tablets inside the stores.

A recent research study from retail analyst firm IHL Group included a fascinating statistic. According to IHL’s survey, more than 2.7 million tablet devices will be shipped for use in North American retail and hospitality by 2015, an increase of 450% over current rates. These figures don’t even take into account the handheld devices that retailers are scrambling to roll out in mobile POS deployments.

The bottom line? Get ready to see millions of tablets and smartphones in retail stores in the next few years, along with fundamental changes in everything from the physical layout of stores to the way that consumers interact with store associates.

61% of retailers surveyed by IHL Group rate mobile technology as their top priority, so what we’ve seen so far in store-based mobile systems is just the beginning.

Early mobile deployments at retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Home Depot, Nordstrom and others have focused primarily on the ways that mobile can improve the store experience. These retailers are looking to mobile devices to get their sales associates out from behind the cash wrap and onto the sales floor, where they can interact with customers, guide the shopping experience, look up product reviews and ratings, and check inventory on out-of-stocks in order to save the sale.  Early deployments are promising, but the changes we’ve seen so far are just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading