WGSN evaluates the pilot stages of using iPads in-store and analyses current best practice for retailers.

By Allyson Rees, WGSN

Most mass retailers have developed iPad applications that allow users to tap into special promotions, shop online and view exclusive content, but now they are bringing iPad technology in-store

The iPad interest begins at the top and trickles down to store level, with CEOs demanding their brands overhaul technology. Harlan Eplan, vice-president of business development at Global Bay Mobile Technologies, one of the companies pioneering in-store iPad technology, told WGSN: "Executives want iPads, and that helps drive adoption for the next wave.”

Below, WGSN outlines the four main ways that iPads are being used at retail, which brands are using them and why they are working for their market


Self-service kiosks

Who is using it: Brands like City Sports and Sephora's Make Up For Ever counter are enabling customers to take a hands-on approach at fixed kiosks, where they can unlock content like catalogues, video and games. iPads can also run ad loops, help guide customers to purchase through interactive quizzes and push shoppers to sign up for customer rewards.

Why it works: Expect to see self-service kiosks at big-box stores as a simple, economical way to create a memorable customer experience. At Make Up For Ever, shoppers can access face charts, browse cosmetic combinations and even upload their own photo for a digital makeover.

"We see these types of kiosks as a low hanging fruit," says Eplan. "They are very cheap  - about $700 for the whole thing - compared to building a entirely new, traditional kiosk box."

Self-service kiosks also work for larger stores because their content is stored locally and updated daily on the iPad, so retailers don't need to worry about the whole store being outfitted for wifi.

Assisted Selling

Who is using it: High-end and luxury retailers like Burberry, Gucci and Tourneau are equipping sales associates with iPads to assist in personal shopping. After viewing the latest runway collection on the iPad, Burberry customers can instantly purchase their favourite looks.

Why it works: This model helps sales associates suggestively sell to clients and create whole looks. Since customer purchase history can be stored in the iPad, sales associates can help clients develop their personal style and build out their wardrobe.

iPads can also help customers find merchandise that has sold out or is only available online. "If you are working with a customer, and they want an apparel item that’s not available in the store, this is a way to look directly at the inventory system," says Eplan. "It allows them to quickly find that item at a distribution centre that can be shipped directly to the customer."

Associates can also help customers with comparison shopping. For example, JCPenney is using the tablets at their jewellery counters so that clients can sift though and compare various cuts, gem styles and prices.

Customer Relationship Management

Who is using it: Department stores like Nordstrom and JCPenney are putting iPads at the register and at the hands of sales associates, so customers can sign up for email alerts or special promotions.

Retailers can easily keep track of how often their customers are shopping, as well as keep shoppers in the know about promotions they are eligible for, as soon as they walk in the store.

Why it works:  Customer-specific information like credit-card deals and special sales are usually kept at the register, but now this information can be much more useful to sales associates. "This is taking the information that resided in the back-end system and making it available on the store floor,” says Eplan.

For example, if a customer is debating whether to purchase an item because it is too expensive, a sales associate can pull up their customer information and inform them of a 20 per cent loyalty-card discount.


Who is using it: Footwear and active brands like Converse and Puma are pioneering iPads as a customisation tool, allowing shoppers to create their own products with various colours and graphics.

Speciality gift and jewellery stores are also getting on the customisation bandwagon. Things Remembered, an Ohio-based retailer that specializes in personalised gifts and operates about 600 locations nationwide has been testing iPads in 12 stores since November of 2010. Shoppers can create messages, print them out and personalise merchandise.

Why it works: Amy Myers, vice-president of creative services of Things Remembered told WGSN that customers love the iPad message creation because "it's modern, convenient and user friendly". The customisation technology makes customers feel like they are apart of the design process and allows them a personal, hand-on user experience.

Point of Sale

Taking cues from the Apple Store, several retailers and restaurants are using iPads to speed up or eliminate lines at the register. Nordstrom recently announced its goal to have 5,000 associate-run mobile checkout devices in 116 of their stores by July, and the department store has been testing the initiative in its Seattle and Bellevue Square stores.

Eplan also told WGSN about a new ultra high-end retailer opening soon in New York City. "They want a very sleek, rich customer experience, so they entire point of sale will be on an iPad as opposed to a fixed terminal," he said.

Todd HoffmanComment