Much ink and pixels have already been spilled in celebration or punditry of Apple’s latest splashy consumer device, the iPad, and so I am sorry to subject you to yet another. But there is an interesting angle which the introduction of this device hints at which I have not yet seen covered.

Over the last few years eCommerce platform and technology leaders –from both the client and vendor communities – have been increasingly talking about “dropping the e from eCommerce” and thinking about the technology and solutions that have grown up to power transactional web-sites as a hub to power many channels. Increasingly this is opportunity concerns the physical retail store.

As eCommerce platforms have matured and developed stable, scalable, integration services to publish and subscribe to catalog, customer, content, and transactional data we have seen a number of evolutions, including the relatively simple way in which applications for smartphones have been introduced by both mCommerce specialist firms and eCommerce platform provider, such as ATG, IBM, Fry, Escalate, and many others. The iPad will be running a close cousin to the iPhone operating system, and will run iPhone apps. But a consumer being able to shop from their iPad is not the real opportunity that has multichannel technologists excited. Consumers can just as easily shop from the web from their iPads.

What has people excited is the possibility for the iPad to become a very useful in-store device using custom applications connected to the eCommerce platform via webservices. Possible uses include:

  • As an enabler for the sales person. Imagine a furniture store where the products are heavily customized and where limited stock can be carried in the store. Now imagine a sales person using an application on the iPad to help the customer research, visualize, and customize the products and then place an in-store over via the eCommerce platform for delivery to the customer’s house. Also imagine a direct sales person who is calling on a customer. Think of the Tupperware party of the future and a sales person easily placing their customers’ orders right there from their iPad.
  • As a free-range point-of-sale (POS) device. Credit apple in some ways for this one too, seeing how easily their associates roam the store with their hand-held POS devices and take credit and debit purchases from anywhere in the store. The iPad may make that even easier with its larger form factor.
  • As a tool for the B2B salesperson. Think about the B2B opportunities of a sales person using an iPad with a specialized application easily referencing their clients open-to-buy and order history while the application caches data to make access to the web in real time unnecessary – as they are often inside office buildings and warehouses. Or imagine giving your customers apps to run on tablet devices to increase engagement, repeat purchase rates, and reduce service costs.

The iPad may be just the tip of the iceberg, but just as the iPhone woke many up to mCommerce possibilities, the iPad introduces a whole new way in which the eCommerce technology stack can be leveraged for new and exciting eCommerce customer experiences across channels.

What do you think? Are you thinking of how your business will use the iPad – and similar devices – in the future?

Thanks, Brian