January 13, 2012, 10:58 AM

Eastern Mountain Sports employees help consumers with iPads in hand

The tablets are fundamental to the retailer’s plan to improve customer service in its stores.

Kevin Woodward

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

The iPad app enables store employees to help customers in shopping aisles.

Beginning in November, customers traipsing through three New York Eastern Mountain Sports Inc. stores were part of a test to gauge the effectiveness of the iPad as a sales tool. How well did the devices work? The outdoor sporting goods retailer will put iPads in the hands of its sales associates in all of its 68 stores starting this year.

Of customers asked about how the iPads in the test stores helped their shopping 95% of them said it improved their experience in the store that day, says Scott Barrett, Eastern Mountain Sports vice president of e-commerce.

The iPads help store associates use the information available on the Internet to help customers find the right products, he says. For example, a consumer may want a fleece jacket in a certain color that is not available in the store. A store associate could order it for her via the iPad and have it shipped free to the customer’s residence, Barrett says.

“This puts an easy-to-use information device in the hands of our store associates and in turn in the hands of our customers,” Barrett says.

The retailer is using VeriFone Systems Inc.’s GlobalPay iPad product. GlobalPay is an app customized for Eastern Mountain Sports that includes access to local store and online inventory, product pages, and seasonal promotions; eventually, it will include a checkout capability. The iPads are not replacements for the point-of-sale systems already in the stores, says Barrett, but adjuncts to help with customer service.

For instance, a sales associate can tap the Hot Products button to find promoted items. A tap on the Sign Up button opens a page where a consumer can enroll in the retailer’s e-mail promotions. The GlobalPay app also connects to Eastern Mountain Sport’s pages for its blog, product videos and Nor’Easter, a festival it sponsors.

Eastern Mountain Sports, No. 423 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, can update the app content itself, Barrett says, without relying on a vendor. For example, the Outfitting section of the app is now geared to winter sports, but will change to spring activities in coming weeks, he says.

Using the iPads, sales associates are able to go to the customer in the aisle and help them without having to return to an Internet kiosk or checkout station, Barrett says. The iPad product is cheaper than installing fixed kiosks throughout stores, but Barrett would not say how much the GlobalPay deployment will cost Eastern Mountain Sports. The retailer bought the iPads, which start at $499. The three test stores each have 10 iPads, but Barrett does not know how many iPads there will be in all 68 stores. VeriFone declined to provide pricing information.

Eventually, Eastern Mountain Sports will add a VeriFone payment card reader to its iPads, Barrett says. Currently, a consumer pays for an online order via the GlobalPay app by typing in a payment card number.

But adding the card reader is not critical to measuring the success of the app, in Barrett’s view. “The main thing is to further engage the customer,” he says.

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