February 2, 2012, 10:41 AM

Expect more iPads in the hands of store associates

56.2% of retailers plan to use the tablets in their stores, Aruba Networks says.

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Expect to see iPads in the hands of more retail employees in the next two years.

Retailers know just how charmed consumers are with the iPad, the tablet computer from Apple Inc. Now it appears that retailers similarly are ready to embrace the mobile device. Within the next 24 months, 56.2% of 130 retailers surveyed by Aruba Networks Inc. plan to put iPads in the hands of store employees.

Store associates can use the mobile devices to search web sites, enroll customers in loyalty programs and accept payments, among other things.

While the survey did not ask what retailers would use the tablets for, some retailers already have deployed the devices. For example, Moosejaw Mountaineering, No. 252 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300, beginning in March will use iPads in its aisles to help shoppers locate items that may not be in stock but can be ordered from its warehouse and shipped to their homes.

The survey, which included retailers from the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe, also found that 38.5% planned to issue iPhones to employees. Mobile devices using Android, the operating system from Google Inc., trailed. 29.2% of respondents plan to use Android tablets and 23.1% plan to use Android smartphones.

Retailers are adopting the same devices as consumers in an effort to keep up with changing shopper behavior, says Manish Rai, Aruba Networks head of industry solutions.

“Today every other shopper walks into a store carrying a smartphone and increasingly using them for price comparison,” Rai says. “With an e-retailer with cheaper prices just a click away, bricks-and-mortar retailers are looking to differentiate in-store service to retain customers. A sales rep in the shoe department, for instance, can show available patterns and colors in the buyer’s size without leaving the customer’s side. A sales rep can bring up additional dress designs in the fitting room. The belief is that if a buyer engages with the sales rep, she is more likely to pay a price premium for the service.”

IPads in particular stand out for retailers, says Nikki Baird, managing partner with research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research LLC. “It’s the perfect form factor for an associate,” Baird says. “It allows retailers to take advantage of rich media and larger images for both the customer experience as well as employee training.”

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