From couch to store, tablets matter

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For multichannel retailers, tablets aren’t just part of the mobile category, they’re an in-store sales tool as well. At the Shop.org Annual Summit, Josh Himwich, Vice President of Products at Refinery 29 and Darrell Sandefur, Director, Digital Architecture at Luxottica Retail, shared insights on leveraging both consumer tablet traffic and in-store applications.

Himwich shared that Refinery 29′s tablet traffic (nearly all of it from iPads) is about 9% of all traffic and growing quickly by 8% month-over-month. And it’s not just his company. Himwich considered Fab.com‘s rapid rise.

Josh Himwich, VP of Products at Refinery 29, discusses the power of the iPad at the 2012 Shop.org Annual Summit.

On his blog, Fab.com CEO Jason Goldberg shares great insights, including a fascinating study on the lifetime value of an iPad user. More than 40% of Fab.com’s iPad customers make their first purchase within 3 months of joining versus less than 10% of non-iPad customers. And they spend more, too. So while those buying with iPads are about 15% of total purchasers, iPad shoppers are forecasted to generate 25% of sales over the next two years.

Himwich explained that the prime time for iPad usage is in the evening hours, when shopping becomes entertainment. Lying in bed or reclined on the couch, these “lean-back” shoppers are giving those retailers that provide good tablet experiences an extra boost. Lean-back shoppers are looking to be inspired and entertained by shopping on the internet–something Himwich says not many e-commerce sites are doing well yet. Here are Himwich’s tips to inspire them:

  • Keep design simple. “Abstraction is the number one killer of the online experience,” Himwich said.
  • Provide a tactile experience. Large images invite tablet users to touch products as they would in the physical world.
  • Don’t think of tablet users as mobile users. Tablet users likely have laptops, smartphones and tablets, but they’re choosing to use tablets in the evening hours. “Tablets aren’t mobile. They’re your laptop from 8 to midnight,” Himwich said.
  • Start with a tablet-optimized site. For most, it makes more sense to create a tablet-optimized site that customers can use without downloading native app.
  • Design for the tablet first. A simple design will serve you well on a laptop or desktop, too, and it will reduce the investment required for mobile-optimization.

Leveraging tablets in the store

Now for the in-store application. Tablets present a wide range of opportunities to enhance the in-store shopping experience, whether as a tool for associates to share information with customers, ring up sales, locate products or other tasks. While multichannel retailers are starting to leverage these opportunities to get creative with tablets, Sandefur presented some helpful tips for retailers considering using tablets in-store.

  • Think practically about the type of tablet you need. If associates will be holding them, consider how heavy the tablet is along with the case, credit card reader and any other accessories needed. Differences in screen size, battery life and, of course, cool factor, should be weighed carefully.
  • Optimize your content for the tablet or create native apps as necessary.
  • Run tests within your stores to make sure that associates and customers have a good user experience. Consider using a caching appliance to help ensure in-store performance.

Sandefur stressed the need to drop your assumptions. Specifically, that if you build it, people will use it. You need a clear plan to drive customer engagement if that is your goal. Also, don’t assume that everybody knows how do use a tablet. Associates might need more training that you think to use basic functions, and tablets for customer use might need to be presented with simple instructions.

The session closed with sage advice: crawl, walk, then run. It’s important to test in a small number of stores before rolling the program out to everyone. Keep your pilot program in the single digits and build from there. Establish your key performance indicators, and hire someone to help you evaluate how you’re doing so you’re constantly reassessing your program. “If you don’ t measure, you don’t know,” Sandefur said.

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