Smartphones in Retail: From Distraction to Essential Business Tool

In today’s retail landscape, smartphones are no longer a workplace distraction; they are indispensable tools. A recent study found that the percentage of automated associate tasks is expected to triple by 2025 (19% to 62%) for grocery/general merchandise retailers. This shift is largely due to technological advancements transforming mobile devices into powerful business and customer service tools. Today, retailers are encouraging their staff to use smartphones at work to develop applications and digitize manual-based processes to streamline operations, enhance customer service and optimize workflows.

The Evolution of Smartphones in Retail

The rise of customized mobile applications has been a game-changer in the retail industry. These applications convert ordinary smartphones into multifunctional business tools capable of performing various operations previously managed through more cumbersome processes. Smartphones now facilitate a range of activities—from barcode scanning to real-time data processing—thereby enhancing the operational efficiency of retail businesses in Canada. These technological advancements are revolutionizing how retailers manage their day-to-day operations, making workflows more efficient and significantly boosting productivity on the store floor.

Key Areas of Impact

Customer Experience: While consumers crave technology to improve their in-store shopping experience, those offered by retailers do not always meet expectations. A recent retail study by SOTI found that while 92% of Canadian consumers have used in-store technology, many believe these devices worsen the shopping experience. Canadians cite challenges in-store, such as a lack of staff to assist with issues relating to self-serve machines (73% of users), while as many as 31% stated that, despite visiting a store to buy goods, retail staff members had to order the item online using the store device.

The report suggests that consumer expectations have risen, largely due to the sophisticated personalization and seamless processes available online, which in-store technologies currently need to match. To address this, retailers must invest in AI-driven solutions and mobile technologies, and ensure they are effectively managed to provide consistent, personalized and convenient shopping experiences in physical and online stores.

Data Processing: Modern retail apps can automate the flow of information through customized, efficient workflows. This ensures that data is quickly shared across the organization and acted upon promptly. Automating these processes reduces the likelihood of human error and increases the speed at which transactions are completed.

Real-Time Decision-Making: Access to essential data on the go empowers retail managers and staff to make informed decisions quickly. This reduces approval times, accelerates response rates and enhances overall operational agility. Additionally, providing key product and organizational training data through employee smartphones supports critical decision-making on the store floor. For example, more than half of hourly millennial workers (57%) prefer accessing work-related training materials on smartphones.

Increased Floor Efficiency: Smartphones free up staff time by automating routine tasks and providing consumers with an elevated and personalized shopping experience through tech output. SOTI’s research found that 25% of global consumers have considered shopping with a different retailer to get a better in-store tech experience. Losing consumer loyalty over tech difficulties is an issue that retailers can prevent. With automation and digitalization, staff can reduce the monotonous aspects of their jobs, allowing them to truly focus on the consumers’ needs.

How Retailers Can Adopt This Technology

For retailers eager to implement this technology, it is crucial to identify their operation’s specific needs, such as improving inventory processes or enhancing customer service. With technology like SOTI Snap, they can develop customized apps and remove manual processes to meet these requirements. Training staff to use these new tools effectively is also essential. Despite smartphones’ familiarity, professional use for business purposes can vary significantly from personal use. Retailers must ensure their staff are comfortable and proficient with the new technology to maximize its benefits.

Embracing the Digital Evolution: Smartphones as Essential Retail Tools

The transformation of smartphones from simple communication devices into essential retail tools underscores the dynamic nature of the retail industry. As technology evolves, the ways retail businesses use these devices will also change. The future of retail looks increasingly digital, efficient and mobile-oriented, promising a landscape where technology and retail coexist and thrive together.


Shash Anand, SVP of Product Strategy, SOTI

As SVP of Product Strategy at SOTI, Shash Anand oversees the company’s evolution from a single product centred around Mobile Device Management (MDM) to an integrated platform that solves many of the challenges around Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM).

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