6 Creative iPad Uses for Small Retailers


This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

We all know iPads make great presentation devices and are excellent for business travel and chock-full of useful apps. Now, let’s focus on retail businesses — shops, salons and restaurants that use iPads to better service customers.

Read on for some creative implementations of the iPad. If you start using an iPad at your business, just be sure to sanitize it frequently — fingers can carry a lot of germs.

1. iPad as Customer Database — goodyoga

 “The iPad is awesome,” says Flannery Foster, co-owner of Brooklyn’s goodyoga studio. The studio is also a bed and breakfast and serves as home to Flannery and her partner, “so we want it to seem less like a business and more like a community center or a home.” First order of business? Ditching the front counter and bar code scanner you see at a lot of yoga studios and gyms. “When people walk in the door, we hand them the iPad, and they sit on the couch — it’s a lot more casual, and we can bring them tea or water,” Foster says. Instead of standing awkwardly at the counter and filling out waivers and liability forms on a clipboard, the iPad makes people feel comfortable and also makes data entry a breeze for goodyoga. The studio uses a Google form, so the staff doesn’t have to worry about decoding a patron’s chicken scratch and the team saves times since the client info goes into the database automatically.

“People have fun with it, and we have a lot of people who’ve never used an iPad before,” says Foster. “Sometimes they’re apprehensive, but most people have a lot of fun using it, and they love being able to sign with their finger when they pay with Square.”

Lesson: Impress new customers and get them in your system quickly (for e-mail blasts, etc.) with a sleek iPad setup.

2. iPad as Entertainment — Tenoverten, New York

 TriBeCa nail salon Tenoverten offers iPads at every nail station. Co-owner Nadine Ferber says customers mostly use the iPads for web browsing, so they don’t have to offer any fancy apps. And yes, they still offer the typical glossy magazines for those customers who’ve been staring at a screen all day at work and want something more low-tech. “Customers love the iPads — some people have never used one before and are just thrilled to be able to without making a commitment to buying one,” says Ferber. She says more than half of the people who come in for manicures or pedicures use the iPad during their service, either to look something or check an email. “It’s a great tool for them to multitask while taking a little time out of the day for themselves,” she says. “And it’s one of the most differentiating things about our business as we are the only nail salon in the world that has an iPad at every manicure station.”

Lesson: An iPad is a great investment as a differentiator that could keep customers coming back.

3. iPad as Fan Base-Builder — Butter Lane, New York

 Butter Lane in New York’s East Village was an early adopter of the iPad craze, affixing one to the wall to encourage people to “like” and follow the shop on Facebook and Twitter. Now the cupcakery has taken to rewarding customers who interact with the iPad, offering a free frosting shot to those who do. Frosting shots sell for $1, so it’s a small price to pay, and co-owner Maria Baugh says the shop gets a lot of engagement with the device, and “it’s definitely increased our number of ‘likes’ and follows — we give away a lot of icing shots!”

Baugh says the device also helps them get customers in other ways. “We find that people use it to get more information about our [baking] classes and sometimes register for them,” she says. However, be warned that if you have an iPad, some customers might use it to check their own social media profiles, and you should also make an effort to lock it down. “The first one we put up just after iPads came out was stolen within the first month! We now have heavy duty industrial brackets holding it in place — it would take serious power tools to get this one off the wall,” says Baugh.

Lesson: Use an iPad on-site to increase your Facebook and Twitter followings — you can offer a small reward as a thank you.

4. iPad as Waiter — Stacked, LA

 “The iPads allow guests to control the flow and timing of their experience,” says Paul Motenko, co-founder ofStacked. “Guests can order a drink and appetizer and then entrees and desserts, when they are ready — or their whole meal at once to move things along faster.” Stacked also offers customers the option to pay directly via the iPad, so patrons don’t have to wait for the server to bring the bill, and one’s credit card information is encrypted at the table, so the system is secure.

Of course, sometimes talking to a person is easier than dealing with a machine, so there are concierges on the floor to help guests when they need it. And all guests are given paper menus so that everyone can read through the menu at their own pace. When they are ready, they order from the custom-developed iPad app and tap “send” and then the order is routed directly to the kitchen.

Motenko says customers love using the iPad. Since Stacked offers burgers, pizzas, salads and sausages with myriad available toppings, guests build their meal from the plate up. “The technology just makes it easier to customize what you want, how you want it and how quickly you want it,” he says. Since the iPad is intuitive, Motenko says guests of all ages have found the app to be easy to use and empowering to choose your own ingredients.

Lesson: The iPad is a great, non-invasive tool that’s easy to use. You can save money on staff and not have to worry about pacing a meal, since the guests order at their own convenience.

5. iPad as Expeditor — 4Food NYC

Healthy fast-food concept 4food opened last year in New York City, chock full of digital integrations, like a 15′ Twitter feed on one of the walls. The restaurant has six iPads available for customers to order from and browse the web. During peak hours, 4food “hawkers” roam the restaurant with iPads to take orders from customers so they don’t have to wait in line. The iPad integration is working well for the concept, and 4food brand strategist Ashley Tyson says the restaurant hopes to develop an iPad app soon so that customers can order easily and access information about the food and offerings.

Lesson: Integrating digital tools into your business can help it run more efficiently, which could help your bottom line.

6. iPad as POS — 620 Jones, San Francisco

‘We take all of our orders with an iPod, and the staff runs credit cards with iPads,” says Jordan Langer of 620 Jones, a San Francisco bar. His team was also “very heavily entwined in developing the app” that drives the POS system. “It was a project that POSlab started doing, and then we jumped on board as their first main client. We started going after it with them because we know how a real POS should work,” says Langer.

Jones servers go to tables with an iPod to take orders, and then the iPad drives the merchant processing. The iPads are always in the hands of staff and never handed to patrons.

“People love it … they absolutely love it,” Langer says. “Inventory’s a lot easier to manage, the development is a lot easier, the interaction with the customers is a lot easier.”

Lesson: An iPad can help you organize and stay on top of inventory, in addition to serving as an excellent POS system.

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