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Sears puts iPads in shopper hands to enhance in-store shopping

Sears Holdings Corp. is rolling out iPads and iPod touch devices to almost 450 Sears and Kmart stores around the country as it continues to look for ways to bridge digital and in-store shopping.

Associates will be able to use the devices to help customers check available inventory, order products online and access product information and videos. At the same time, Sears said it will offer free Wi-Fi at various locations so customers can use their smartphones to surf the Web, shop at and compare prices.

?We wanted to enhance the relationship between customers and associates and improve the overall shopping experience,? said Kimberly Freely, spokeswoman for Sears, Chicago.

?We wanted to make it a more personal experience,? she said. ?It is part of our strategy to become more of an integrated retailer and combining the digital and retail formats within the company.?

Other retailers to follow
The devices will enable shoppers to check product reviews online, compare prices and see a larger assortment of products than is available in the stores.

The IT group for Sears is upgrading the entire network and technology infrastructures, including enhancing wireless coverage, to provide customers with free Wi-Fi access.

Sears plans to add new applications and features to the devices throughout the year to make shopping easier and more exciting for its customers as they plan their holiday shopping.

Large retailers such as Sears, and recently Lowe?s, have been embracing mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets for in-store use. 

However, the appeal of mobile devices for in-store use is much broader.

?Even smaller retailers, local retailers, can use these devices to improve customer service,? said Joy Liuzzo, senior director of mobile research at InsightExpress, Stamford, CT. ?Tablets provide the untethered nature of mobile with a richer experience than computers ? a powerful mix in any environment, large or small.?

Ms. Liuzzo expects more retailers will incorporate this technology in the near future.

?These devices will allow floor sales people to engage with customers right where they are standing, sharing the screen rather than having a monitor in between them,? Ms. Liuzzo said. ?It?s another way to break down barriers and make the sales process better for everyone involved.?

For Sears, the strategy of providing in-store mobile devices and better Wi-Fi access is giving the retailer a way to enhance the relationship between customers and associates and create a more personalized shopping experience.

?We?re already one of the best in class mobile markets, in that our stores are uniquely linked between mobile commerce and bricks and mortar,? Sears? Ms. Freely said.

?Shoppers can already order online and pick up at store through their mobile devices,? she said. ?Most shoppers have limited reception in malls so now they can come into the stores and order directly.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York