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BrainTrust Query: How Tablets Could Revolutionize the Shopper Path to Purchase

December 28, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from an article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research blog.

As when any technology becomes adopted, the prices for tablets, one of this past holiday season's hottest gifts, should eventually see a dramatic drop. We already see this starting to happen with the Amazon Kindle Fire. Forrester estimates that the current single digit penetration of tablets will increase 3-to-4 fold by 2015. With that, maturation in usage patterns is expected.

Then it struck me: the tablet is the first device that can actually travel with the shopper through the complete path to purchase.

The tablet is inherently a mobile device. Imagine a store completely wired for Wi-Fi so you can use your tablet as you shop. Imagine you have planned your trip at home, on your tablet, by scanning what you are about to run out of and by searching on your tablet for coupons and interesting dinner ideas. While you are doing this, smart marketers and retailers are advertising their products and offers using an interactive sight/sound/motion experience. Now, you have created a shopping list on your tablet, which also contains all of your frequent shopper information for the store you are about to visit.

When you enter the store with your tablet, it recognizes your presence and greets you with a video message from the store manager. You place the tablet in your shopping cart so you can watch it as you go and your shopping list automatically gets reorganized so you can see which items are in each aisle you enter. This will encourage a shopper to completely navigate the store, which any retailer would love. While you are walking down the aisle, windows awake on your tablet delivering messages that are relevant to you based on shopping history and interactively offering you deals.

Research already indicates that tablet owners already spend more time accessing the internet via their tablets than their computers. And tablets are becoming preferred devices among their owners for online shopping, according to Forrester. Today, that is from the living room, but why should it be restricted so?


Discussion Questions:

Discussion questions: How may tablets transform the shopping experience and path to purchase? Do you think that with the right app, shoppers would use their tablets for in-store shopping? What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of shopping with a tablet?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What's the likelihood that shopping in-store with tablets will be a fairly common occurrence across retail within the next two to three years?


I don't think it's an app issue, I think it is a traffic issue; I'm thinking back to Videocart and its successors. There were two problems with that technology. Shoppers didn't want to spend their time playing with a video screen and shoppers kept on running into each other or into the shelves (and worse, displays) because they weren't looking where they were going.

For those who are tech-happy, it would be cool. For retailers, one would have to wonder about the trade-off between providing the technology and the potential reduction in impulse purchasing due to shoppers following a list more closely and easily.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

It wouldn't surprise me if shoppers started taking their tablets to retail stores -- I've already seen people using them in restaurants. But, at present they are not nearly as portable as smartphones, so in the short-term at least I doubt we'll see too much of this. The bigger obstacle is that people just aren't good at multitasking, so I don't imagine being semi-glued to a tablet as one walks the store is going to enhance the shopping experience. For proof of this, just pull up alongside the next car you see wobbling, weaving, and stop-starting down the highway. If the driver is not drunk, they are texting.

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Al McClain, CEO, Founder, RetailWire.com

I like Joel's conceptual logic. However, I don't know about actually walking in a store with a tablet, especially with a kid in a cart. Maybe it's time for Ideo to once again re-imagine the shopping cart, this time with holders for all our devices.

If you could take the tablet to the store and somehow have the one-handed operational convenience of the smartphone, then it would be entirely feasible.

And the Boomers who ALL got tablets for Christmas will be actually able to see what's popping up on the tablet screen!

Retailers, it's time to get ready! Shopping will continue to change and once a device becomes an enabler, it rarely gets abandoned.

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Anne Howe, Principal, Anne Howe Associates

It's just like GPS -- it is NOT going to be widely adopted by shoppers in any store that they shop regularly, any more than you use your GPS regularly to get to the office. The "app" that will change this is eliminating checkout by scanning and paying as you shop, not at the end. This will lead to regular interaction with a device, and Katy bar the door!

Until then, a lot of trial and error will deliver meager results and a lot of learning. I do believe that Modiv Shopper at Stop & Shop is at the head of the pack, although I have not recently evaluated their iPhone app, but this is definitely the right direction over the proprietary shopping assistant device.

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor Kantar Retail; Adjunct Ehrenberg-Bass, Shopper Scientist LLC

This is all nice in theory, but consumers already have a device that can do all of the above...the cell phone. Why schlep a tablet, when the phone is more convenient and more ubiquitous?

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

The challenge with tablets is that they require two hands. MY sense is that the smart phone will continue to be the biggest influence. Look at the recent discussion of the new Amazon price-check app. This is what 4-wallers need to be worried about.

Bill Emerson, President, Emerson Advisors

As others have noted, this is not an app issue but a size issue. Not sure why anyone would want to carry a tablet around when they could do the same things with their smartphone.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

Recent research shows the vast majority of tablets are bought to use Wi-Fi, not the carrier's 3G/4G signal (the reason being customers are reluctant to buy separate data plans and "shared" plans are still rare). Also, while I have two tablets, I rarely take one outside (with the exception of the local coffee shop). Why do this when my smartphone provides much of the same convenience in a smaller package? I am not convinced customers are willing to carry a tablet around at this time.

Fabien Tiburce, CEO, Compliantia, Retail Audit & Task Management Software

Why is the tablet the first device that "can actually travel with the shopper through the complete path to purchase"?

They have these nifty things called smartphones now that can do the same thing.

Somewhere along the line people are going to realize they don't need a phone AND a tablet AND a laptop AND maybe an iPod.

Will the tablet win? Sure, every meeting you go to features a table full of executives huddling around their iPads -- BUT, you can't create, edit etc large PowerPoint files on a tablet so most of us are stuck with at least three devices.

My bet -- either tablets will become large enough to do what most of us need, or laptops will become light and small enough to replace tablets or phones will get bigger or somebody will invent a brand new platform.

Personally, I'm tired of schleping all this technology around. There has to be a better alternative.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

I believe that cell phones might be too small and ironically, they are more likely to require hands on rather than hands free as you could imagine mounting the tablet. It's funny how long it takes for technology to take hold. Touch has transformed our digital interface yet it took nearly 20 years from the first HP desktops with touchscreens that were black and white and had the animated butterfly when you booted up.

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Joel Rubinson, President, Rubinson Partners, Inc.

I remember a college economics class that discussed the barriers to perfect competition, one of which was information. If a buyer was able to know the prices at all alternative sources retail margins are likely to be squeezed. The definition of perfect competition is sellers selling at marginal cost -- which means in the long run they go bankrupt as they can never cover their fixed costs.


Customers shopping the store with a tablet is wishful thinking. The more likely device will be the smart phone. A tablet is simply is too large and the phone can do even more than the tablet. I see many new roles for the tablet from the customer service or sales side, but not from the customer.

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W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

Remember McLuhan said new technologies displace -- not replace -- old ones. Tablets have the potential to displace in-store digital media, smart carts, mobile phones, frequent shopper cards, and maybe even front-end checkouts for some shoppers on some trips. In the short-term, however, they will primarily add to choice and complexity.

Retailers who enable open Wi-Fi in their stores will lead change in this arena. I would advocate using the frequent shopper number as a login to enable shopper insight opportunities. Retailers who don't bother may find they lose credibility with the tablet demographic.

Outside the store is another story. The tablet-obsessed may choose to carry theirs as they meander through the ecosystem of influences, but let's be real. They have a wealth of other touchpoint options.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

The use case envisioned here -- of using a tablet like a GPS device or interactive map while you shop -- is based on a grocery/drug/big box model. However, this only describes 30% of the non-ecommerce "shopping experience" as noted in the discussion questions.

I see the tablet thriving in a different retail format: car dealers. This represents 15% of retail sales and is the perfect use case for research both on price and quality.

The smart phone will reign in the other 55%, which includes restaurants, clothing stores, and assorted local retail outlets. Here the delivery of offers, and (sadly) price checking favors a cell phone.

Other than the first use case, none of these are complete path-to-purchase but rather the touch points where mobile performs best. This is consistent with user behavior, which doesn't seek an all-in-one device but simply wants to get answers and save money faster.

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Dan Frechtling, SVP Product and Marketing, CMO, G2 Web Services

The power of information in your hands immediate to the browsing (in store) or actual shopping experience is immense. For those who can multi-task and/or those who are ambidextrous marvelous. The evolution isn't the "right app," though many will try for the short-cut. It's making the devices easier to carry, lighter and of course contactless for checkout. Also, fully integrated with your rewards/loyalty ID to get incremental benefit. If you self-checkout, you get even greater benefits as a loyal consumer.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

How can I add anything of value to Max Goldberg's succinct thought: "This is all nice in theory, but consumers already have a device that can do all of the above...the cell phone. Why schlep a tablet, when the phone is more convenient and more ubiquitous?" Perhaps just by saying, we, in the retail business get all jazzed up by the latest trends, however, many of those trends are technology-driven, and the vast majority of consumers tend to keep things simple. They use the least expensive, easiest-to-use device for their shopping. And as of today, that device is not a tablet.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

I think the smartphone, not the tablet, is likely the right device. It is much easier to navigate a store while holding a smartphone, plus it fits in my pocket. Having said that, it is hard to see how consumer behavior evolves. No one, to date, has a killer app for using either device in-store. Will 2012 be the year when such an app emerges?

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

It will be a matter of execution in the store. And store execution of IT initiatives, especially when intertwined with such an array of corporate initiatives, will be a formidable challenge for any retailer. That said, once the price, complimentary application, hardware, and interaction issues are ironed out I do see great potential for a retailer to utilize tablet-driven shopping to improve the customer experience.

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Larry Negrich, Director, Business Development, TXT Retail

As a representative of a retailer, I agree with most of the comments already posted. From a shopper's perspective carrying a tablet (or watching the screen of a cart mounted tablet) is not convenient. From a retailers perspective -- particularly one with thousands of locations, implementing the infrastructure to deliver on this scenario would be horrendously expensive.

I think the tablet as a ubiquitous shopping partner will never eventuate. What will happen however, is that my fridge, my pantry, my printer, and other household devices, will automatically re-order (via the web) standard items I use that are running low. In this scenario, the shopper will only need to enter stores when looking for non-standard items. With IPv6, this could start happening somewhere around 2018. Unfortunately, the (Jetson's) flying car is going to take a little bit longer to arrive.

Tom McCann, Director Retail Usability Research, Staples Inc

With a compelling application, I believe that smartphones are far more likely to be used than larger, heavier, difficult to carry/store, tablets. Many shoppers already carry a phone-based device, and this will become even more likely as payment becomes more smartphone centric. Tablets have a place in delivery of value to the consumer, but are not likely to become the primary in-store consumer carried device.

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Verlin Youd, Managing Principal, Verizon

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