If the image of a shopper standing in a store aisle, smartphone in hand, checking prices is a retailer's nightmare, a tablet could be a retailer's dream come true.
Here's why: If you want to buy a pair of shoes online, you'll likely sit down at your computer and make the purchase. Although using a smartphone is easy if you're looking for quick information, you're unlikely to leisurely browse a retailer's website using such a small screen.
But retailers shouldn't think of iPads and other tablets as just mobile devices with a larger screen, said Siva Kumar, CEO of TheFind, a website that helps shoppers compare prices.
If retailers do, they may not be making the most of the platform. The larger screen of a tablet, and the settings in which the device is often used, lend themselves to browsing, Kumar said.
As a result, Kumar said, tablets have the potential to put some of the power back into a retailer's hands because the shopper's attention can be focused more sharply on the product rather than its price.
In May, TheFind launched an app called Catalogue for the iPad and Android tablets. In creating it, Kumar attempted to replicate the feel of paper catalogs that retailers have sent in the mail for decades. Users can swipe the screen to mimic turning a page while they look at the merchandise.
Kumar expects this approach has a more leisurely feel, which is appropriate given that 80 percent of table owners use their devices in the living room—more than any other location in or out of the home, according to the recent findings of a Forrester Research study.
Kumar said this means the experience becomes more about "discovery." As consumers browse through a catalog on the Find app, they may discover something they like, and that may lead to a purchase, he said.
Research from Forrester appears to support this thesis. Even though only 9 percent of shoppers own tablets, sales from tablets account for 20 percent of mobile e-commerce sales.
What's more, 60 percent of tablet owners have already used them to shop, according to Forrester.
Still, retailers haven't caught up to the technology for the most part. Few have invested to modify their existing apps and websites for the iPad.