Can Handheld Tech Reduce Shopping Friction?

The retail industry is facing a transformative period. After enduring a global pandemic, inflation, and supply chain disruptions, the sector is looking towards 2024 with high hopes and innovative strategies. A key focus for many retailers is reducing friction in the shopping experience to enhance customer satisfaction and drive sales. This article explores how handheld technology, combined with strong Wi-Fi and accurate inventory databases, is playing a pivotal role in achieving these goals.

The Importance of Reducing Friction in Retail

Friction in the retail context refers to any obstacles that hinder a smooth shopping experience for customers. This can range from difficulties in finding products to lengthy checkout processes. Reducing these friction points is crucial for improving customer satisfaction and boosting sales. According to Andy Szanger, CDW’s director of strategic industries, the experience of store associates directly impacts the customer’s experience: “If your store associate is experiencing friction, your customer is going to feel it.”

The Role of Handheld Technology

Equipping retail workers with handheld devices is one of the most effective ways to reduce friction. Handheld technology, such as smartphones and tablets, allows store associates to access real-time information, assist customers more efficiently, and perform their duties more effectively.

Matthew Guiste, a global retail technology strategist with Zebra Technologies, emphasizes the importance of providing frontline workers with the right tech: “Frontline workers overwhelmingly say that they feel more valued, they feel like they will stay longer and can do a better job helping their customers.” Handheld devices enable employees to quickly look up product information, check inventory levels, and locate items within the store, thereby enhancing the overall customer experience.

For example, a customer looking for a specific size or color of a product can receive immediate assistance from an associate equipped with a handheld device. This reduces the frustration of searching for an item and increases the likelihood of a purchase. Moreover, real-time inventory checks ensure that customers are not misinformed about product availability, further enhancing trust and satisfaction.

Accurate inventory management is a critical component of reducing friction. Handheld devices connected to reliable Wi-Fi and integrated with real-time inventory databases enable store associates to manage stock levels more efficiently. This minimizes the chances of stockouts or overstock situations, both of which can negatively impact the shopping experience.

Nick D’Alessio, senior business development manager with Brother Mobile Solutions, highlights the importance of familiar technology for retail workers: “Retail workers want to use technology that they’re familiar with — especially phones and tablets with straightforward interfaces.” Familiar interfaces reduce training time and help employees adapt quickly to new systems, ensuring they can assist customers more effectively.

The Impact of Strong Wi-Fi and Real-Time Data

Strong Wi-Fi connectivity is essential for the seamless operation of handheld devices in a retail environment. Without reliable internet access, the benefits of handheld technology cannot be fully realized. Real-time data access is equally important, as it ensures that inventory information is always up-to-date and accurate.

Consider a scenario where a customer enters a store looking for a specific product. The store associate uses a handheld device to check the inventory in real-time. If the item is not available in the current store, the associate can quickly locate it in another nearby store or even initiate an online order for the customer. This level of service not only meets the customer’s needs but also encourages loyalty and repeat business.

Handheld technology can also be used to streamline the checkout process. Mobile point-of-sale (POS) systems allow associates to process transactions anywhere in the store, reducing wait times and enhancing convenience for customers. This flexibility is particularly valuable during peak shopping periods, such as holidays or sales events, when traditional checkout lines can become excessively long.

The Broader Implications for Retail

The integration of handheld technology in retail is not just about improving immediate customer interactions; it has broader implications for the entire retail ecosystem. Enhanced data collection, better employee satisfaction, and improved operational efficiency are just some of the long-term benefits.

Handheld devices enable real-time data collection and analysis, providing valuable insights into customer behavior and inventory trends. Retailers can use this data to make informed decisions about stock management, marketing strategies, and store layout. For instance, analyzing the frequency of product searches can help retailers understand customer preferences and adjust their inventory accordingly.

Providing employees with efficient tools can significantly improve job satisfaction and retention rates. When employees feel empowered to perform their duties effectively, they are more likely to stay with the company and deliver high-quality service. This is crucial in an industry often characterized by high turnover rates.

Handheld technology enhances operational efficiency by automating many routine tasks. Inventory checks, price adjustments, and customer inquiries can all be handled more swiftly, freeing up associates to focus on more complex customer interactions. This leads to a more efficient use of labor and resources, ultimately contributing to the retailer’s bottom line.

Overcoming Challenges and Maximizing Benefits

While the benefits of handheld technology in retail are clear, there are also challenges that need to be addressed to maximize its potential. These include ensuring robust cybersecurity measures, managing costs, and providing adequate training for employees.

With the increased use of connected devices, cybersecurity becomes a critical concern. Retailers must implement robust security protocols to protect customer data and prevent breaches. This includes encryption, secure access controls, and regular security audits.

The initial investment in handheld technology and supporting infrastructure can be significant. However, the long-term benefits in terms of improved efficiency and customer satisfaction can outweigh these costs. Retailers should conduct thorough cost-benefit analyses and consider phased implementations to manage expenses effectively.

Adequate training is essential to ensure that employees can use handheld devices effectively. Retailers should invest in comprehensive training programs that cover both technical skills and customer service best practices. Ongoing training and support will help employees stay up-to-date with new features and functionalities.


The retail industry is at a pivotal moment, with technology playing a crucial role in shaping the future of shopping experiences. Handheld technology, supported by strong Wi-Fi and accurate real-time data, is reducing friction for both customers and employees. By empowering store associates with efficient tools, retailers can enhance customer satisfaction, streamline operations, and drive sales.

As retailers continue to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the modern retail landscape, the integration of handheld technology will be a key factor in their success. By prioritizing investment in these technologies and addressing the associated challenges, retailers can position themselves for long-term growth and competitiveness in an increasingly digital world.

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