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Here's How Tablets Are Changing the Retail Game

Since the launch of Apple's iPad, tablet fever has taken off with over one billion people owning one, according to estimates. But the high demand is expected to cool by 2018 as better smartphones hit the market. Despite the expected decline, retail is seeing a tablet-fueled surge as brick-and-mortar businesses are jumping at the chance to combat the online retail revolution.

Airports have already plugged in iPads as part of their revamped customer service. OTG Management, a company behind many airport restaurants, is spending $120M to install 6,000 iPads on tables, bars and stations throughout Newark's United Airline terminal. Flyers can wave the boarding pass in front of the iPad's camera to check flight status, order food and pay with frequent flyer miles. On the other end, kitchen staff instantly read orders from their own iPad and servers are pinged with iPod touches. It's all about automated efficiency and accountability.  

Retail stores are taking cues from airports, too. Sears just announced tablet integration into the buying experience. On the operational end, software such as Retail Pro keeps workers up-to-date on inventory, allowing them to easily and instantly order items for customers. In the long run, companies can track and analyze performance data while removing the need for pens and papers.

Large retailers far established in the industry find tablets useful in ensuring they don't lose their standing ground as e-commerce picks up. Major conglomerates like Walmart struggle to transfer their retail dominance online, instead betting on combining their brick-and-mortar core with a tech touch, such as drive-thru digital touch-screen kiosks to place orders.

At risk of being unseated by Amazon as the leading apparel retailer by 2017, Macy's is testing tablet integration to upgrade the dressing rooms--the one advantage brick-and-mortars still hold over e-commerce. Customers will be able to have apparel--swimsuits, lingerie--delivered directly to the fitting room door without having to step out.

While online retail is gaining steam fast, at 6% of all retail sales, it still has ways to go before catching up. If brick-and-mortar retail can find ways to use the tablets effectively, then it could keep e-commerce at bay--at least for the time being.