Computer Tablet PC - a revolution on the sales floor

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With the advent and adoption of tablet computers it is instructive to look at what is happening in the retail environment. A trend at the local mall is that in some stores the shop personnel are now starting to carry tablet computers. Order entry and inventory management can be done on the fly so that the customer has immediate access to the product that they desire. In this article, we examine the enabling technology and the consumer ramifications of a potential change in the retail industry.

For years the retail industry has used computers to track inventory and place orders, but tablets allow the store personnel to carry these functions out onto the floor and to make consumer decisions immediate. Further, tablets allow for the combination of functions including POS (Point Of Sale) capabilities in one device.

Enabling Technology

Computers have long been a staple of the retail environment. Typical functions performed include a variety of ordering and inventory management functions at dedicated checkout points. Generally the functions have been limited on the sales floor itself due to size, weight and capability concerns. Consider the ramifications of the recent technology changes to: Wi-Fi, printers, credit card entry systems and tablets.

Wi-Fi has become easy to install and operate as well as ubiquitous and relatively secure. This makes it easy for computer savvy store owners to position themselves with a dedicated Wi-Fi network inside of their store and to secure the network to the level that consumers will not balk at having their information placed on the in-store Wi-Fi network. Consumers are generally computer savvy and understand how order entry and credit/debit card services work. The idea of the information about an order being carried on top of a dedicated store Wi-Fi network is just a simple logical extension of what the consumer already sees and knows in many purchasing situations. However, the use of a wireless network inside the store will allow sales personnel to be free of the front counter.

Further, depending on the type of the device used to process the order, the receipt for an order can easily be sent to an email address. Thus, there is not any real need for a central counter to process the paperwork associated with an order. However, in the case of someone who really wants a hard copy receipt, the advent of network attached printers running in a wireless environment allows a system to be built that allows the purchaser to purchase the product and pick up the hard copy receipt as they take their item out of the store. This saves time and in the case of someone who is comfortable with an electronic receipt it also saves paper. In some cases the receipt can be printed out right on the credit card receipt as you make the purchase.

Credit card entry systems are under going a transition also. We all know the standard types of credit card ordering systems attached to the side of the POS terminal or on the counter next to the POS or sale terminal. But, in other situations, the credit card entry system is portable and can be brought to your table in a restaurant or used at a booth at an art fair. Some work over Wi-Fi but many simply work over the cell phone network Yet even these systems are undergoing a revolution as developers are able to make such functions operate on a smart phone or on a tablet. Now the technology exists to make the credit card entry system truly portable and in the hands of every sales person no matter where they are on the sales floor.

Enter the era of the tablet computer. With the small size and weight of tablet computers, it is reasonable to expect to see such devices on the sales floor. Further, because many of the devices can operate on both Wi-Fi and on the cellular phone system it is easy to consider them to be able to operate as POS, inventory control, and order entry systems as well as a credit card processing system. With the current proliferation of tablets and their growing number of apps and capabilities you can expect that the sales floor is at the start of a technological revolution.

Consumer Ramifications


In the last few months, there has been a set of major changes in the way some stores operate. I have been involved with car purchase and lease returns where all of the "paperwork" was done on the sales floor and we picked up the paperwork as we walked out of the showroom. I have purchased computer systems where the purchase was done as we walked around the sales floor and we just picked up our items as we exited the door. I have been to an art fair where the processing of our purchase was all done electronically with the receipts generated over a cell network to a portable device. This change of retail store sales floor management does not even count management of the inventory as we tried to determine items or colors that we were interested in as we walked through the store merchandise.

For the consumer, this provides the benefit of immediately being able to make your purchase. You know that you are going to be able to get what you want and not spend a lot of extra time searching or exploring alternatives because if an item or color that you want is not in stock, the sales person can give you the alternatives immediately.

For the store owner, the revolution going on due to technology moving out to the sales floor promises to be more sales per sales person with a lot less trouble to determine what and where the merchandise alternatives are located.


You should expect that we will see more and more advanced purchasing functionality making its way onto the sales floor. We are in a business revolution driven by inexpensive tablets and communications that are providing new levels of functionality to assist consumers and sales forces.

Kenneth J. Thurber is the author of Big Wave Surfing: Extreme Technology Development, Management, Marketing and Investing -

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Kenneth J. Thurber Ph.D. is a renowned computer architect and has developed technology and systems worth billions of dollars. He developed the concept of "technology big wave surfing" to allow readers to understand the ever-changing technological marketplace.

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