The Holidays are Coming. Are Your In-Store Retail Mobile Devices Ready?

Image displaying retail shoppers

Back in 2019, 45% of consumers did their holiday shopping in-store. Then COVID-19 hit and the numbers dropped significantly. In Canada in 2020, for example, 30% of people planned to shop in-store. In 2021, this number rose slightly as 35% of people planned to do their holiday shopping in person.

As things start to open up again people are embracing a return to “normal”. With that, there is an expectation that in-person shopping will creep up to pre-pandemic levels. At least, that’s what your competitors are gearing up for:

  • Walmart: 91%, or 36,500, of Walmart’s seasonal hiring jobs will be for in-store roles

  • Party City: Planning to hire 20,000 holiday employees and keep 10% to 15% in permanent roles

  • Michaels: 100% of Michaels’ seasonal hires, 15,000 positions in all, will be in-store roles

Shoppers are ready. Retailers are ready. Employees are ready. But is the technology required to meet the demands of in-store shopping ready?


In 2022, 35% of shoppers said they couldn’t purchase the items they wanted due to the supply chain crisis. How has that number changed in the past year? Find out in the 2023 SOTI Retail Report, available January 2023.

More People in Stores = More Demands on More Devices

Whether it’s one big holiday shopping trip, visits to retail stores spread out over time or a quick in-and-out to pick up a single item, in 2021, 91% of consumers in the U.S. made at least one visit to a store during the month of December, and it’s another number that’s expected to rise in 2022. Meanwhile, globally in 2021, in-store sales jumped by 8.2%, surpassing even pre-pandemic (2019) numbers.

Online shopping can’t quite replicate the emotion and excitement of in-store holiday shopping; something that has been sorely lacking for the past two-plus years. People want to visit malls, shops, markets, retail centers and boutiques.

What they also want – and what retailers must deliver – is technology that makes the shopping experience smooth, personalized and even safe. Even though returning to stores isn’t the same prospect as it was during the height of the pandemic, customers want in-store technology to limit interactions with in-store associates.

Collectively, consumers are expected to spend 7.9% more in 2022 compared to the 2021 holiday season. Holiday shopping is fun, but the element of get-in and get-out as quickly as possible remains, and here’s how technology can help:

  • Checkout interactions only: Customers only want to interact with sales associates at checkout, which is no longer limited to the cash register. When they’re ready to buy, they want to do so anytime and anywhere.
  • Access to handheld devices: 24% of consumers say mobile devices provided upon entry that allow them to check product pricing and availability themselves will create a better in-store shopping experience.

  • Leveraging BOPIS: Buy Online, Pick-Up in Store (BOPIS) surged during the pandemic, and it’s not expected to subside during the holidays. BOPIS brings together the speed and convenience of online shopping with the physical experience of being in-store, and if a retailer does not have a BOPIS option, 42% of shoppers will look elsewhere.

Hypothetically, as restrictions and lockdowns came into effect, the use of in-store technology may have diminished drastically. Here’s a potential scenario: instead of a retail store offering 100 handheld scanners to customers, they offer 25 since that was the number of people allowed in the store at any one time.

Those days are (hopefully) fully in the rear-view mirror as shoppers are eager to return to stores and retailers are eager to welcome them. The question then becomes, is in-store technology ready to service customers, and what happens when it can’t?

More Demands on More Devices = More Risk of Downtime

From the front entrance to the back room and all points in between, technology will enhance the shopping experience…but only if it works.

Even in the good old days of holiday shopping, it was never fun to wait in a long, snaking-into-the-aisles line as a cash register terminal or printer was down.

It still isn’t fun and it can cost retailers big time. If there’s a problem in the checkout line, 86% of consumers will leave, and that adds up to $38 billion (USD) in lost revenue.

Here are some things that can cause downtime in the line:

  • Printer downtime: During the holiday shopping season, printers are constantly working. It’s easy for a print head to overheat or for someone to press a button they shouldn’t, thus rendering it out of service. Then, of course, there’s the age-old problem of a printer running out of paper at the most inopportune time.

  • Self-serve checkout downtime: Prior to the pandemic, 73% of shoppers were in favor of using self-serve checkout. During the holiday season, self-serve helps customers shop faster with less in-store associate interaction and employees focus their attention on other tasks. If a self-serve checkout goes down, those customers must either go to another kiosk, be checked out by an associate or abandon the sale altogether; neither of which is an ideal option.

Handheld scanners are another popular in-store technology tool consumers like to use. And because they are passed from one customer to another, they must always be charged and cannot be lost. During a single shopping day, if one handheld scanner isn’t accessible that could potentially impact hundreds of shoppers. Now, imagine if dozens of handheld scanners aren’t available and how that can impact the holiday shopping season.

It's a simple equation: more customers will be using more in-store devices, which means there’s more opportunity for downtime.

But what can retailers do to minimize downtime and ensure customers are happy while shopping?

Be Proactive

If 42% of shoppers start their holiday shopping early (October and November) in 2022, then retailers should be equally as proactive. They’ve already begun somewhat with the previously mentioned hiring examples.

When it comes to in-store technology, here’s what retailers can do to prepare for the holiday shopping season:

  • Take inventory of all mobile devices: How many printers are deployed throughout the store and in the back? What is the battery status of your handheld scanners? Are there any tablets that associates use on the store floor missing or unaccounted for?

  • Ensure everything is secure: In the hustle and bustle of the holiday rush, it’s easy for printer or smartphone security to be overlooked. That’s when a security breach occurs. In fact, during the holidays, there’s a 30% greater chance of a security attack compared to other months of the year.

  • Test and train: Test all in-store devices beforehand to ensure they are working properly. Then make certain all employees (especially new ones) are trained on proper security protocols. The very last thing any retailer wants is for an employee to accidentally open an email which results in customer data being stolen.

It will be good to see, hear and experience the joyful sounds of in-store shopping this holiday season. But those happy sounds can turn to frustration if the technology isn’t ready to service customers.

Being proactive is a simple and effective way to make certain this holiday shopping season is a success for those buying – and selling – gifts this year.