Anyone who is following the tablet market knows the pace at which vendors are announcing and now shipping products to the channel.  The category has exploded in terms of number of players from a single vendor in April 2010 (read Apple here) to 19 vendors currently selling tablets in the 18 retail chains monitored by gap intelligence each week.  However, unlike more established categories like computers, digital cameras and TV’s, tablets right now do not have a dedicated section devoted to them in any store.

If a consumer is out shopping for a tablet, then it is pretty much a guarantee that he/she will have to explore two to three different sections in a store to find the product he/she is looking for.  Tablets can be found anywhere ranging from computer departments, to cell phone and accessories sections, as well as random stand-alone placements.  For example, if you were in Best Buy shopping for a tablet, here is how your retail path will look like.

Let’s say you decide to look at the Apple iPad to start with.  You will end up in the Apple section of Best Buy, which is mostly a dedicated section for Apple products towards the back of the store and often positioned next to the computer section.

After this, if you wanted to explore some Android tablets and let’s say wanted to play with the Motorola Xoom, you will walk to the other end of the computer section to the Motorola Xoom end-cap display.  The Xoom end cap display is relatively new to the store, and prior to this, the Xoom line was placed next to the notebook section.

Now if you are interested in exploring the Acer Iconia TAB A500 Android tablet, then you would walk towards the computer section, where the Iconia TAB A500 is placed along with notebooks and netbooks.  Acer does not have a stand-alone display and it is quite unlikely that the company would invest in one in the coming months.

Imagine while you are exploring these tablets, your cell phone rings and you take out your BlackBerry to answer.  The sales rep after seeing your BlackBerry, tells you about the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.  And you get excited and want to explore, so you end up in the mobile section of Best Buy.  Like the Xoom, the BlackBerry PlayBook is also placed on an end-cap, sometimes with a BlackBerry phone.  And while you are here, you also spot some other tablets like the HTC Flyer, Huawei, and Samsung Galaxy Tab placed on a separate display.

If you have been counting, you pretty much walked to five different sections in a Best Buy store to explore the available tablets.  Given that the tablet category is emerging, vendors are trying to figure out what works in the market, while retailers are testing sales of the products.  End-caps are expensive and definitely a sign of promotional investment from tablet vendors and space commitment from retailers.  Although retailers enjoy impulse purchases from the added store traffic that these widely dispersed end-caps bring and the added in-store signage certainly helps create awareness for the tablet category, some tablet vendors may lose sales depending on how accessible and visible their products are.  I still feel that regardless of having end-cap displays, a retailer’s planogram team must allocate a dedicated space to tablets, where users can look, touch, test, explore, and compare all possible options at one spot.  Remember, one of the reasons Apple’s iPads are so successful is that consumers know where to look for them!