The potential of iPads in retail

I was recently in an Apple store and after playing around with their iPad Smart Signs which show off products throughout the store, it got me thinking about how iPads could be used in more stores.

Back in 2011 Apple introduced iPad displays to all of it’s Apple Stores, replacing the old cards encased in clear acrylic that used to sit alongside each product. The iPads are widely used throughout the store to display product info etc, not only for Apple’s products but other products like headphones and speakers.

Apple Store by Florian Boyd

Apple Store with Apple “Smart Sign” iPads – Photo by Florian Boyd

Various other stores are starting to make use of iPad’s with varying degrees of success, some people really get it. Some are starting to get it and others haven’t seemed to quite grasp the potential or the functionality the iPad can provide in stores.

Using iPads in retail opens up so much potential. iPads could be used for any number of things that are listed below…


Like Apple iPads could be used as interactive displays that bring what was probably very static come to life. Apple’s displays previously contained information on that product and the other models within that line it didn’t allow customers to compare whole lines of products like the iPads allow you to do now.

Apple Store Displays

Apple Store displays prior to Apple’s “Smart Signs” – Photo by Caroline

You’ll notice in the photo that the displays are very limited in what they can display to customers. They aren’t interactive and you can’t delve deeper into learning more about a product than what the card shows unlike the Apple Store 2.0 iPads.

Product Information

Not limited to a piece of paper or card an iPad provides endless possibilities with regards to how much content that can be shown to the customer. Starting with simple details about the product and if the customer wishes to delve deeper then they can with a few taps of the screen.

Apple do this well and don’t just allow you to compare products in the same line as the one you are looking at. For example if you are looking at a Macbook Air you can compare all MacBook Pro’s as well as Air’s.

Product Videos

Usually limited to huge TV displays or online videos prior to a customers arrival in store they are able to show the product in action right on the iPad. These could include official product videos or selected YouTube videos that have been created other customers allowing the customer to see video content on specific features or the product itself.

Ford have done this with their Showroom app which allows you to view videos on specific features within their cars such as connectivity with phones etc…

Product Reviews

Some customers will make use of their own Smartphone to find reviews of a product while browsing around a store. This could be improved by making it easy for them by showing customers the reviews from your site or Amazon right on the iPad displays.

Data Collection

Want to learn more from your customers or want to sign them up to your newsletter? Along with other features you could collect data before using that to send emails or for product development.

Personally i’ve heard of a few people having iPads alongside their normal cash-registers allowing customers to fill in their details to receive newsletters etc. The benefit of this is not having to manually enter the data and reduces the chances of an error when inputting the email as the customer themselves have done it.


Allowing your customers to share something they liked with their friends or family via social networks would provide avenue to spread the word about your store and your products. Not only that but if it’s coming up to a birthday or Christmas it’s a handy way for people to know what to buy. Everyones happy.


Various retailers have been doing this recently, allowing customers to customise jewellery or trainers straight from an iPad. Providing the customer with a live display of how their design looks in store rather than on a website.

Puma have created a “Creative Factory” in their stores allowing their customers to customise trainers on iPads before they are made.


Worried about keeping the customer in your app? Some stores using iPads as display are making use of Guided Access to lock down the device. This isn’t the best way to go about it if you’re hoping to keep your customers in a single app. Apple have a kiosk mode available on all iOS devices which allows you to lock a device into the first app that is launched. Only a restart & removal of the profile will give you full access back to the device.

I’ve been able to use the iPad kiosk in a store and get it back to the home screen easily where I was faced in lots of Apps that had either been downloaded by the public or the staff.

Without having to jailbreak your devices you can do this by installing a profile onto the device, once installed you can remove it via the devices Settings then regain control after a reboot.


You can widely find iPads in San Francisco which are used to take payments using card or cash, most of them are using SF’s own Square which have also recently launched Square Stand.

Not only could iPad’s replace displays but they could also replace registers that are currently in use today. Some stores have even gone as far as using iPads as self-service options for customers to avoid and reduce queues in stores.

Coasters allows customers to order their drinks from their own device, keeping staff free to make the drinks or serve others.

Support / Assistance

Apple included this in their stores allowing you to notify the store when you required assistance. Placing you in a queue to be seen by a specialist, when it was your turn the Apple Store employee would locate you and help you with any queries.

Some stores you find everyones asking if you need help, then when you do need assistance you can’t find anyone or everyones busy. Being able to request assistance and see where you are placed in the queue helps and of-course the customer is free to continue browsing all of the content on the iPad while waiting.

Obviously using iPads in stores is a costly business with Apple having an iPad for most products in their stores, each modified to have the dock connector on the back. You only need to try and count the number of iPads used as signs in the above photo to start working out how much Apple are ploughing into this. But with the right approach, adding iPads to retail experiences could prove to be just what’s needed to bring new life to stores.

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