Mobile Devices: How the iPad 2 Will Change Customer Engagement
As consumers clamor to adopt emerging mobile technology, covering a constantly evolving line of smartphones and tablets, retailers are rushing to integrate mobile commerce into their sales and merchandising strategies. With the availability of apps for phones and iPads, mobile websites, QR codes, and text messages, to name only a few options, retailers must make some difficult choices regarding the best mobile technologies to pursue for their marketing efforts. Many retailers have focused their efforts on the year-old iPad, which they quickly realized could offer new opportunities for sales and customer engagement.
The tablet enables an augmented shopping experience both because of its larger form factor, which naturally engages users to a higher degree relative to the smaller smartphone display, and its capability for enhanced product visualizations, rich interactivity and seamless integration of multimedia. After last year's launch of the original iPad, marketers talked about the impact it would have on the retail consumer experience. Now the iPad 2, introduced in March, may allow retailers to further extend the virtual shopping experience in some very interesting new ways.
2 Video Cameras
From the customer's standpoint, perhaps the most significant new feature of the iPad 2 is its two video cameras — one front-facing and one rear-facing. The first-generation iPad had no camera at all. The dual configuration of the iPad 2 is designed to support video chat, but for retailers the addition of a camera to the tablet could make a big difference in customer engagement.
As with the original iPad, retailers can continue to explore the concept of "clientelling" — i.e., enabling store associates on a retail floor to access a customer's account, wish lists, purchase history and preferences via systems integration through the iPad to provide a high-touch customer service experience in-store. But with iPad 2, a sales associate can take it one step further. For example, by taking a photo of a customer, then drawing on data that indicates the customer's fashion preferences, a store associate can create a variety of outfits for that customer to view right on the iPad screen.
The question remains, however, why would a customer already in the store go through these virtual manipulations when she can just try on the clothes for fit and fashion herself? A better approach might be to devise the means to offer the same functionality at home. A shopper could use the iPad 2 to take a photo of herself, then dress herself online via the brand's website — a true virtual dressing room.
Conceivably, the dual camera iPad 2 could also be used by consumers for collective decision making. A shopper at a car dealership, for example, may be intrigued by a vehicle's telematics or automated tailgate closure. iPad 2 could provide that shopper with the opportunity to connect via video chat (assuming the dealership had Wi-Fi) with a trusted advisor to demonstrate the car's features live. Simultaneously, the sales associate could answer questions from both parties in real time, engaging with both on the lot and online.
Last year I mentioned, and data still supports the fact, that consumers tend to download apps to their smartphones but rarely use them. The potential for apps to be successful is much higher on the iPad 2. Again, the larger form factor and multitouch capabilities of the iPad 2 increase the likelihood that a consumer will choose to open an app as opposed to a browser to access a shopping site while couch surfing. It's just more fun!
Along the same lines, another promising application of iPad 2 is its ability to help bring the QR code into ubiquity. While gaining popularity on the mobile side, QR codes will be more accessible to people sitting at home paging through a magazine or watching a show if their iPad 2 is sitting next to them on the couch. Imagine seeing a commercial for a patio set, scanning the QR code with your iPad 2 from the couch and being directed to a fully merchandised page of the patio set, a grill and gardening accessories, all with a promotion for entering via the QR code.
One of the biggest barriers to innovative use of the iPad 2 may not be so much technical as it is logistical. First, retailers must move their iPad 2 units out from the locked cases where they've mounted them, merely displaying their website, and place them in the hands of sales associates. Second, the iPad is no longer the only tablet on the shelf. With Xoom, Galaxy Tab and BlackBerry's PlayBook, consumers have a choice. Retailers must decide on which of these platforms they'll build their apps and optimize their site for. To help make that decision, analyze the devices your customers are using most to visit your website or otherwise communicate with you.
Retailers and consumers alike are certain to find other innovative ways to adopt the iPad 2. Of greatest importance is that retailers appreciate the power of this new form of mobile technology and demonstrate their ingenuity as their customers continue to become more inventive and demanding.