Navigating Operational and Technical Retail Trends in the Rugged Devices Market

Operational Retail Trends

Large enterprises and corporations in the retail industry have continued to shift the way they utilize mobile technology to better suit the demands and needs of their employees and customers. As the world has evolved to a more digitized society, retailers have adopted rugged Android devices to enable efficient operations among their shop floor and back of the store. These devices first appeared in the early 2000s and usually only had one or two applications such as item lookup. However, retail organizations are continuing to add greater functionality and applications to these devices to streamline workflows, increase employee productivity, and better serve their customers. 

Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS)

One of the most popular trends has been the buy online pick up in-store method. BOPIS and curbside pickup enable consumers to buy items online in the comfort of their own homes and collect later from the store. A recent study found that in the first six months of 2021, nearly 67% of shoppers in the US had used BOPIS at least once. 


The trend skyrocketed in demand during the peak months of the COVID-19 pandemic as BOPIS made for a safer, contactless way of shopping. As mentioned in the article, The Importance of Omnichannel in the new Retail Reality, BOPIS makes up for about 11% of all eCommerce transactions as of 2019, a huge jump from the 4% estimation in 2017. 


Not only do these strategies minimize interpersonal contact, but they provide a simpler way for customers to buy their essential items without having to wait for shipping. About 37% of these customers use BOPIS to get their orders faster, highlighting that the retail consumer base is looking for convenience from their favorite retailers. This has caused companies to become dependent on utilizing rugged devices to empower employees in stores and distribution centers. 


During a recent webinar with DecisionPoint, BlueFletch’s Brett Cooper discussed the rise in rugged Android devices among North American retailers as more companies have begun to support curbside pickup options for their customers. 

This shift has led to a greater demand for handheld devices that can monitor inventory, scan items, and create a streamlined shopping experience. 


Rugged Android devices have begun to climb in popularity as more businesses rely on a consistent mobile experience to allow their employees to run a smoother operation. Handheld devices enable frontline workers to streamline workflows, improve cross-team communication, and better serve their customers. The functionality of these tools creates a productive workforce, and BusinessWire estimates that the rugged device market will grow by USD 1.67 Billion through 2024. 


Rugged Devices

Rugged Android devices have adapted to better suit the increasing amount of customers utilizing curbside pickup and BOPIS while also helping boost workplace productivity. Mobile hardware such as the devices created by companies like Zebra Technologies and Samsung have jumped in market value as retailers continue to invest in better technology. These devices have to meet a variety of needs including: 

Employee Communication

  • Many devices offer a messaging system much like texting that allows employees to communicate and stay connected during the workday.
  • There has been a rise in the use of push-to-talk (PTT) tools, similar to Zebra’s Workforce Connect.
  • In a world where nearly 85% of American adults own a smartphone, employees are very likely to be familiar with the basics of rugged Android devices, allowing employees to feel confident in communication software similar to what they use outside of work. 

Cellular Communications

  • As some devices are being used outside of the workplace to deliver orders or fulfill curbside orders, devices sometimes need to be connected to a cellular network. There is a wide variety of rugged Android devices that use cellular data, such as Zebra TC26Samsung XCover Pro, and Honeywell Dolphin CT50

Inventory Accuracy

  • Due to the various ways consumers shop, retailers need to have inventory accuracy in the 90%+ range. It is critical to have fast scanning capabilities to allow your employees to quickly and accurately count inventory. 
  • Retailers are putting more devices into the hands of Merchandising teams so that in-store item location can be tracked during stocking and replenishment. This inventory location data allows shoppers to easily locate products within their consumer apps. 


Tablets have yet to burst onto the rugged retail scene in the same way that handheld devices have. The retail world is fast-paced, and employees rely on devices that are accessible and versatile in order to maintain workplace efficiency. Tablets do not offer the convenience of being easily held or small enough to fit into employee pockets, making them less desirable for day-to-day tasks. 


Their bigger, bulkier nature has mostly limited their use to managers and higher-level employees within the retail industry that works on a management level. As an advantage, the touch screen and compact structure of the device makes life easier for a manager who needs to complete work that would usually be done on a desktop computer. Tablets are also ideal for dealing with interactive client sales demos as their larger screen, and stylized features make for convenient communication. Slowly but surely, tablets are creeping into the hands of upper management as companies such as Samsung continue to make a wave in the retail industry. 

Technical Retail Trends

Rugged Vs. Consumer


In our experience at BlueFletch, we see more and more retailers deploying rugged Android devices to support their operations. This is primarily due to its customizability and flexibility for developers, ease of use, data security, and cost-effective OS. 


In a recent webinar, Brett Cooper from BlueFletch stated that “The industry has seen retailers pivot away from iOS and switch to using rugged Android devices.” This trend was related to the maintainability of said technology, as Android allows for a better maintenance experience in the field. Companies like Zebra, Honeywell, and Samsung are the dominant players in this industry. Increased uptime due to the ruggedization of these devices leads to improvement in employee productivity. 


Android replacing Windows


Windows CE/Windows Mobile was formerly one of the leaders in the retail industry. Many big retailers waited for Microsoft to release the successor to Windows Mobile; however, the company’s promises fell flat, and organizations began switching to Android technology.  Android is now the de-facto standard for most retail organizations that are deploying handheld devices to their employees. 



RFID technology is essentially an application that can scan and identify goods instantly, saving labor and increasing inventory accuracy. Readers scan the unique RFID barcode and securely organize data. Patrick McGlynn mentions in his article that RFID not only saves labor but it can achieve true inventory accuracy at an exponential rate when all the components are working together. 


Companies have begun to switch to RFID solutions as readers have dropped in price and become widely available. Retailers are also looking for mobile devices that can scan RFID identifiers that have opened the lane for software developers to create applications that support RFID. 



For more information on operational and technical trends in retail mobility, you can watch our live webinar below. Be sure to stay on the lookout for our next article in this series where we will be touching upon operational retail security.