Retail revolution is led by an iPad

Retail sales associates just became obsolete. We don’t need them anymore. Like travel agents, technology has made them an endangered occupation. I witnessed this paradigm shift in a small hotel ballroom in Portland, Ore., where Storycode, an app development thought leader, demonstrated a sales enablement iPad app built for Nike.

Other companies are beginning to utilize first-look apps in stores as a way to engage and educate customers, and many more are using self-check-out technology. However, I hadn’t seen a retail customer sales tool app done well until I saw the Nike app.

The Nike Bra app and the companion Nike Pants app are being quietly tested in Nike stores now. The apps help women decide which bra and pants are right for them and their workouts. It aids the customer in the decision-making process by leading them through a decision tree. This interactive tool includes video, audio images and information on the technology innovation behind each product. The app is more knowledgeable than most employees as it receives information directly from the manufacturer. In addition, each time the customer touches the screen, customer interaction is archived and mined to improve future interactions.

Many people are looking at their smartphones as they walk through the store and younger customers prefer to interact with the digital device rather than with a potentially disgruntled store employee. This app has immediate appeal. Since the app is displayed on Apple’s iPad, it is very approachable. comScore, a digital media market research group projects that there will be more than 90 million iPad users in the U.S. by 2015.

Using the Adobe Digital Publishing platform brands can position these apps in stores around the world and can easily update the styles for the next season by pushing out a new packet of information to the app. The implication for brands is a reduction in employee training at a minimum and a likely reduction in retail employee staffing required to service customers.

We have a historical example of this sort of disruptive technology. In 2002 there were nearly 148,000 people working in the travel booking industry. Expedia.com and other airfare travel sites were already changing the market. In 2011 there were approximately 105,000 people working for travel agencies. That is a 30% decline in employment for the industry in nine years. Now we all book travel online, getting our information on times and prices directly from carriers.

This retail revolution won’t happen overnight, but it will be fast. Nike just did it. They changed the retail paradigm.

Tim Priest is chief marketing officer, writer and founder of CMO Strategy Group, where he serves fast-growing companies in campaign development and implementation. He can be reached at TimPriest@CMOStrategyGroup.com.