Tablets haven't been a big hit in retail stores, says Gautam Lohia, head of emerging technology for the digital marketing agency Blast Radius, since they're a two-handed device. That makes it awkward to do things like pick clothes off a rack to suggest to a customer while holding on to a tablet. In those cases, it's better to have a kiosk if there is a need to look for more information or find an out-of-stock item online at another store.
However, Stoli vodka gave iPads to people doing promotions in bars, says Jamie Manalio, a producer at Rust who worked on the app. The app played off Stoli's "Would you have a drink with you?" ad campaign. The people doing promotions used the app to ask the customer a few questions, shook the device, and the app suggested a vodka drink to fit their personality. Likewise Blast Radius worked with a perfume maker on a tablet app that asked a number of questions to direct a person toward a scent. Tekserve did something similar for a cosmetics maker.
Cash register interfaces also could be a growing use for tablets, says Lars Kamp, of Accenture, replacing conventional, costly point-of-sale terminals, especially for small businesses.
The big question is whether a tablet gets in the way of a retail experience, rather than enhancing it. Manalio worked with a retail shop owner who wanted a virtual reality app, where people could point an iPad camera at a product and get more data on it. He talked the store owner out of it because he thought people would be looking at their devices and "walking by products you want them to buy," he says.