400ipad-Perspective-NoShadowSure tablets are all the rage but are they suited to the demands of retail?  Can they handle back-office activities like store walks and retail audits?

The answer is far from obvious.  The field is a notoriously demanding environment for portable devices.  Poor light conditions, interruptions and the need to support data entry while the user is standing up, are just of the challenges faced by field devices.   Overcome these obstacles with research and experimentation however, and you have an ideal device for field use.  Here is why.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab™ has a screen size 430% bigger than the BlackBerry Torch™.  The Torch™ is a very effective field audit tool in its own right, but its sheer size imposes limitations on the amount of data that can be displayed which in turns drives the visit workflow.  This is not a deterrent for effective and highly usable field audits in and of itself.  Compliantia has devised smart phone specific templates and workflows, but a smaller screen forces concessions.  More real estate on the screen equals more data and more functionality at the user’s fingertips.  More real estate saves times and allows more complex visualizations and interactions which increases usability and the usefulness of the application.

A well designed tablet application has to be highly usable.  While this seems obvious, few software vendors stress the importance of usability in their products and even fewer publish usability guidelines.  We think an application should impress in the boardroom and in the field.  Make your buttons large.  Keep navigation consistent and yet contextual (and thus relevant to the task at hand).  Make it easy for users to create visits and action plans by following the “yellow brick road”.  Do all that (and a few other tricks…) and you have a tablet application that delivers value to the organization from the field all the way to head office.

A tablet’s larger screen is also brighter and tends to have more contrast.  This is a huge advantage in a retail environment where the lighting conditions vary greatly.

Like most modern smart phones, tablets like the iPad 2™ come with front and back facing cameras and support for WI-FI.  The camera allows the district manager or retail auditor to document a certain condition at store level (good or bad) and permanently attach photographic evidence to the visit in progress.  WI-FI allows the user to transparently connect to the store’s wireless router which saves bandwidth, increases connection speed and allows access to remote parts of the store which may not have cell signal.

Tablets come in various sizes.  Which size is best?  A bigger screen is generally easier to read and use.  A bigger screen means bigger fonts, larger buttons, etc…  Bigger isn’t necessarily better however.  Of utmost importance is the ability to do data-entry with the on-screen keyboard while standing –up.  For some, this means a 7 inch tablet, for others a 10 inch tablet.  Integration with your enterprise security and computing environment is obviously an important consideration too and typically involves discussing the matter with your IT department.

Tablets may be popular but they are unlikely to completely replace laptops and smart phones.  They are however well suited to the demands of back-office retail tasks like store walks and retail audits.  Compliantia Retail Audits and Task Management is certified to run on a number of tablets including the Apple iPad™, the Samsung Galaxy Tab™ and the BlackBerry Playbook™.

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