Sears’s Softer Side Includes iPads and Free Wi-Fi

The proliferation of Apple devices at retail continues with the announcement that Sears will roll out iPads and iPods to its salespeople in 450 stores nationwide.

This closely follows moves by other major retail chains, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters, in embracing what could be called iCommerce.

As in the other cases, the devices are not intended to replace the cash register, but rather to assist customers. Associates will be able to tap the screen to check available inventory, order products online and access product information and videos, right where the customer is standing.

I’ve written previously about how retailers of all different sizes are now using iPads, but it’s amazing how much tablets are redefining both digital e-commerce and physical shopping experiences.

The retailers include large chains — Lowe’s plans to roll out 42,000 handheld devices in the U.S. and Canada — and midsize companies, such as Pacific Sunwear, which expects to buy up to 900 devices this year for its apparel stores.

Even smaller retailers, such as wineries and coffee shops, are using iPads, often as a replacement for registers, which can not only cost a lot but can also be very bulky. Companies such as Square, Verifone and Intuit have built applications and accompanying swipe dongles to assist with credit card payments.

Sears also believes there’s a practical purpose to rolling out the devices. It said that employees will be able to use them to manage tasks and increase productivity, including assisting customers faster than before.

As part of the tech push, Sears will also be offering free Wi-Fi to customers so they can use their own smartphones or tablets to surf the Web, shop online or compare prices before they purchase.

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