"A source with knowledge of corporate mobile device deployments" has told Forbes that one of the 10 largest retailers in the U.S. will soon distribute iPads to all its sales staff. The source noted that the retailer in question operates 1,100 U.S. stores, making Best Buy, which had 1093 U.S. stores as of September 2010, the most likely candidate.
The report also notes that Best Buy is a natural match because of its existing relationship with Apple. When the original iPad was released last year, Best Buy was one of Apple's few launch day retail partners. Best Buy has already begun advertising the recently announced iPad 2, which goes on sale on March 11.
Best Buy's rumored widespread rollout of the iPad to its employees could come as part of the company's Connected Store initiative. The retailer launched a pilot program in 27 stores last year that gave several mobile devices, such as iPads, iPod touches and Samsung Galaxy Tabs, to sales associates for the purpose of educating consumers and processing purchases. According to the report, Best Buy has acknowledged that the Connected Store pilot could be expanded in the future.
As of 2010, Best Buy had 180,000 employees, but it's not immediately clear what percentage of those serve as on-floor sales staff and would be eligible for an iPad.
One possible explanation for the rumor could be that Best Buy is preparing an iPad-based point-of-sale and inventory management system. Apple currently uses an iPod touch-based EasyPay checkout system in its retail stores. In December of last year, AppleInsider reported that other retailers have been looking into implementing POS systems on the iPad and iPod touch.