Just two years ago, clothing retailer Guess? had some serious merchandising issues.
"Our buyers were working off a system where merchandise was represented by a long number, and it was hard to tell the items apart," says chief information officer Michael Relich. "As a result, I don't think our merchandise selection was as good as it could have been."
Then the retailer decided to invest in iPads and saw huge changes. For the first time, executives could easily determine what was selling where and make merchandising decisions based on real-time data.
Associates also had an easier time helping customers with the devices, Relich says.
We interviewed Relich about how iPads changed his business and why they're a good investment for any business.
BI: What made you first decide to get iPads for your business?
Michael Relich: The first iPads were implemented on the merchandising side in November 2010. I was at a conference and met a company called Microstrategy that was developing an app that could display merchandise visually and show what was working in different regions. I realized then that the iPad could be used to consume data. It's amazing–I could bring out my laptop and people think I'm some kind of nerd. If I show them the same thing on an iPad, they think it's cool. Now we've implemented them in stores too. Associates can use them to show customers what items go best with their purchases and also to show what is available in other stores. Customers can look up availability of sold-out items in other stores or shop on our e-commerce site.
BI: How did the iPad improve business with your merchandising and in stores?
MR: Well, our buyers saw an improvement immediately. Instead of just seeing a number on a spreadsheet, our iPad app allowed them to see the specific coat, pant or dress accompanied by a photo and where it was selling. Suddenly, they were going into stores with a much better idea about what to do and how to act to improve the store.
For shoppers, our engagement went through the roof after we installed iPads in the stores. People instinctively go up to the device and use it to find out-of-stock merchandise or track their loyalty program points. We've gotten great feedback.
BI: In what ways do you think iPads will influence retail in the future?
MR: I believe that cash registers will go away and be replaced by iPads or iPod touches. We currently use an iPod touch in stores for credit-card transactions, similar to the Apple store. I see something like that happening on a wider scale soon as more stores adopt that. We used to send whole registers to help associates get through the holiday rush, but now we just send extra iPod touches. It really eliminates lines and people having to wait, which is really great. So in addition to improving merchandising and engagement, it keeps the store from being so frantic.
BI: What advice would you give to small businesses looking to incorporate iPads in their business?
MR: I would encourage anyone to do it as soon as possible. The devices are relatively affordable and worth the investment. But have a clear plan about what you're going to do with it and how to best utilize it on the customer service side and merchandising side. Once all that's in place, I say go for it.
Read more about how tablets can help your small business.
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Relich