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Most business owners are already aware of the benefits of having a user-friendly website that is easily viewed and accessed by smartphones and tablets. Now, many of these same companies are finding fresh and unexpected ways to use tablets in stores, while helping to broaden the boundaries of what a brick-and-mortar store is capable of. Yes, the tablet revolution has finally reached retail, proving itself to be an essential tool in a new way of doing business.

Recent research indicates that by 2014, more than one in three American Internet users will have a tablet device, and that 52 percent of tablet owners prefer to shop online using their tablets. However, this data isn’t discouraging retail-store owners, who more and more are seeing the advantages of working with tablets to enhance their brick-and-mortar businesses.

For example, at the ‘Gas Station of the Future” in Rio de Janeiro, a Cisco Cius tablet is available to connect customers to specialists in real-time, and can also use videoconferencing to gather information on maintenance specials offered by the station, as well as show addresses across the city. Over at the the Shanghai Lotus Supermarket in China, SK Telecom has started a trial of its Smart Cart — a WiFi-enabled tablet PC mounted to a shopping cart (pictured above). While walking through the aisles, the customers can use Smart Cart to find product and discount information linked to their current location. It can even be synched to a companion smartphone app.

A recent survey of retailers done by showed 31 percent had plans to begin testing tablets in stores this year, 22 percent had already begun such testing and six percent had fully deployed tablets within stores. Tablets have already proven themselves to be extraordinarily adaptable and flexible at a variety of uses.

With the adaptation of Square and VeriFone point-of-sale (POS) services, there is an emergence of the concept of ‘t-commerce’ or tablet-commerce. And indeed, retail-business owners are beginning to understand the advantages of having a tablet with POS capabilities.

NYC-based Saturdays Surf uses the iPad with LightSpeed software to show merchandise to customers, order out-of-stock products, and complete sales. Putting tablets into the hands of sales associates is a smart move for a variety of reasons; using a tablet as an additional POS device helps free up floor space for merchandise, and customers no longer need to wait long check out lines for a cash register. Not only that, but studies show consumers who have been to stores where tables are being used feel that those stores are more innovative. Sixty four percent of businesses with tablets found their employees to be more helpful when assisting customers if they had a tablet.

An employee with a tablet in hand is at an advantage to help the average customers, who are more and more likely to have access to information on their smartphone or have researched their purchase on a tablet before entering a store.

Likewise, more and more retailers are catching on to the trend of using tablets. Here are some other great examples:

  • Disney Stores and Urban Outfitters allow employees to ring up a customers purchase (and email their receipts) from an iPod Touch.
  • Sears, Converse, Puma and Burberry have all rolled out tests of in-store tablets.
  • Gucci and JC Penny are experimenting with ways to incorporate tablets into their stores.
  • Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s both have tablet devices available at specific store locations to assist customers in researching a product, or to shop from a variety of styles.
  • Nordstrom is rolling out 5,000 mobile checkout devices at 116 full-line stores in preparation for its Anniversary Sale in July.

With so much potential, and such quick adaptation, don’t be surprised to see tablets start showing up in stores near you.

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