2023 Trends in Telecom Retail


Check out highlights of our 2023 Trends in Telecom Retail survey results below, or jump down to the PDF whitepaper download, which includes all survey findings and expert commentary from industry leaders

Whether you’re a telecom carrier, an authorized retailer, a device manufacturer, a national retail brand getting into wireless sales, or anything else, you’re looking for strategies for success in an uncertain future. So how are those businesses picturing that future, and how are they setting themselves up for that success? 

In the second edition of our bi-annual iQmetrix Trends in Telecom Retail survey, we asked a series of questions of respondents from across the U.S. and Canadian telecom sector to get some of those insights. 

The picture the results painted was one of an industry that is relentlessly changing — and the players who continue to adapt within those changes. Hit with a global pandemic, with the threat of recession, with constantly shifting consumer behaviors, with ever-growing market competition, and with mind-boggling new technologies, telecom retail operators continue to demonstrate innovation and fortitude. 

Stacy Hamer, Chief Operating Officer at iQmetrix, said, Even though there’s some nervousness and caution in some of these responses, what I love about the businesses in this industry is how resilient they are. Anytime something has changed dramatically, there’s an initial fear, but then they realized, we’ve figured out how to transform ourselves and take advantage of the thing we thought was threatening.” 

The good operators will be resilient enough to do this — they might have a decline in smartphone demand, but theyll have an increase in smart home devices or new IoT products. Or theyll perfect the idea of selling in-store and shipping to home because theyre so resilient at changing their business that theyll compensate for it somewhere else.”
—Stacy Hamer, COO, iQmetrix

Hamer added that this adaptability, to meet customers where they are and rise to their new expectations, is essential if retailers are going to win today’s key race — the race to win customer loyalty. 

Trish Sale, Vice President of Product at iQmetrix, knows that using interconnected technologies is crucial to creating a great customer experience that will foster that brand loyalty. She said, Just to have the product in front of you isn’t the goal. Just to have the activation isn’t the goal. It’s also making sure that you can have the warranty attached to that phone, that you have the financing, and so on — all the services that are required for a good experience — it’s about pulling all those pieces together in one seamless journey.” 

Key insights

from our survey that reveal how telecom retailers view the industry and plan to stay ahead of challenges. 

58.68% of respondents predicted growth in device sales over the next three years

78.69% said smart home device sales will increase over the next three years

55.26% are predicting revenue growth for their business in the next three years

68.11% said competition today is higher than three years ago

59.48% cited continued economic uncertainty as their biggest challenge

85.96% see the business opportunity in eSIM, although a third of those also see a threat

45.69% have noticed a decline in smartphone demand over the past three years

65.56% have implemented contactless payments, with most of those having kept them post-pandemic

63.10% of respondents think it’s likely AI analytics of customer behavior will increasingly shape retail strategies 

76.47% of respondents predict a greater focus on customer loyalty and rewards programs

Increasingly Cautious Optimism 

In our last survey, two years ago, telecom retail operators proved that they were a confident group when it comes to business forecasts. Today, that optimism still exists — but it’s a little more cautious than before. In our questions about retailers’ business outlooks, most respondents still chose to see a bright future. But in each case, that majority was noticeably smaller than it had been two years ago, with more respondents moving towards neutral or negative sentiment. 

Nearly 60% said they expected sales of new wireless devices (smartphones or tablets) to rise over the next three years, but that’s down from nearly 70% last time. For smart home devices, a healthy majority of 78.7% expect an increase — but again, not as high as the near-84% from two years ago. 

There also seems to be a slight reduction in the rapid growth of competition in the market. Yes, competition is still increasing, according to 68.1% of respondents. But that’s not as high as two years ago, at 72.8%. Could the telecom sector in North America be moving towards saturation point? 

The inevitable conclusion from the survey answers is that optimism in the industry still exists but may be wavering — no doubt due to some of the challenges faced in the industry, as explored in the following section. 

Where do you expect sales of new wireless devices (smartphones/​tablets) will be three years from now? 

Device Sales Graph

Where do you expect sales of smart home devices (smart TVs, IoT-connected devices, etc) will be three years from now? 

Smart Home Device Sales

What is the level of competition in your marketplace like today, as compared with three years ago?

What is the level of competition in your marketplace like today, as compared with three years ago

Top 5 Answers

What are the greatest challenges you face in the upcoming year?

Opportunities and Threats Ahead 

No matter who you are in this sector, there tends to be a set of common hurdles facing every telecom retail business. In surveying our base, we found that the biggest challenge ahead of respondents was a general continued economic uncertainty, which 59.5% said they were worried about, making it our top answer. That’s even higher than the 49.6% of our last survey in 2021, when this was also the top answer. 

The second most concerning trend for our respondents was the decreasing demand for new devices, due to less frequent upgrades — a question that wasn’t even on our radar two years ago. 

The introduction of eSIM technology is a newer hurdle to overcome. The vast majority of respondents — nearly 86% — see business opportunities of some kind with eSIM, and most are formulating strategies around it. But a third also see it as a threat. 

With competition increasing, respondents see lower-priced plans, better promotions, and better rate plans being the key factors potentially luring customers to other carriers. Given the economic uncertainty that all are feeling — especially the customers themselves — it’s not a shock that they’re looking for bargains. Added to that, major carriers are making big moves to answer this call and offer better value. For example, telecom giant Verizon bought out pre-paid brand Tracfone and launched Total by Verizon as a prepaid option, which is currently opening new stores and enabling Verizon to offer lower-priced plans to a different demographic than its post-paid customer base. 

Have you seen a decline in the demand for new devices, due to less frequent upgrades and growth in second-hand market? 

45.69% have noticed a decline in smartphone demand over the past three years

What do you perceive as the opportunities, challenges, or threats around the introduction of eSIM technology? 

Connecting All the Touchpoints 

Connecting All the Touchpoints

In today’s retail environment, customers expect a unified online-to-in-store experience, with a range of features such as Buy Online Pick up In-Store (BOPIS), drop shipping options, contactless payments, and more. These unified commerce offerings are no longer optional for those retailers who don’t want to get left behind. 

Some unified commerce features that were implemented during the COVID pandemic have remained part of the new normal, but some have seen a drop in demand since store traffic has returned. Of the unified commerce strategies implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic or earlier, curbside pickup is the third most popular, but also the feature most likely to have been cancelled since. Even BOPIS, which has seen a huge surge in popularity and has usually been kept in place, has seen some retailers remove this option when stores returned to regular activity. 

When it comes to the biggest challenges facing telecom retailers in implementing unified commerce strategies, one answer dominated, and that was tacking the complexities of carrier-to-retailer system integrations. iQmetrix’s Stacy Hamer sees this pain point between carriers and authorized retailers every day. It’s just so overwhelming,” she said. You have a spaghetti-bowl of integrations that makes it incredibly difficult to implement new technologies such as omnichannel solutions. It’s hard to even know where to start. That’s where you need a unified, integrated suite of solutions that untangles that spaghetti bowl, streamlines integrations, and makes it easy to implement new technologies that just plug into your existing systems. That’s why we at iQmetrix exist. That’s why Interconnected Commerce exists.” 

Which unified commerce strategies have you invested in so far, and which do you plan to invest in? 

If you implemented unified commerce strategies due to the coronavirus pandemic or earlier, which of those have you kept in place post-pandemic?  

Top 5 Answers

What are the biggest challenges your telecom retail business is facing in implementing omnichannel technologies?

From Clunky to Connected 

It’s no secret that that a key pain point for telecom retail operators and their customers is long, clunky, and onerous activation times. More than 60% of respondents said that the purchase and activation process in their stores took above 30 minutes, with a full quarter of respondents saying it averaged above 45 minutes. 

The challenges in the activation space are many and varied, ranging from the high costs of maintaining an in-house activation solution, to that poor customer experience mentioned above, to high agent training costs, and more. 

Hamer added, That’s where you need a single activation solution that is integrated one time and deployed to many, reducing IT infrastructure costs; that is simple and easy to use, which reduces agent training costs and helps with staff turnover; and that keeps retailers up to date with all carrier rate plans and offerings, which are only getting harder to keep track of.” 

How long does it typically take, on average, for a customer to buy a device AND get it activated in-store, from the moment the transaction is initiated to the moment the transaction is complete?

What do you find are the top challenges faced when activating devices?

High costs associated with developing and maintaining an in-house activation solution

High agent training costs with a steep learning curve for multiple activation portals

Poor consumer experience due to dual entry, inconsistencies, and long activation times

Difficulties with staying current with the carrier offerings

Integrating activation portals with legacy technology

The Changing Physical Retail Space 

Many have been saying for years that brick-and-mortar retail is dying, and even more expected these predictions to come suddenly true as the pandemic hit. But post-COVID, foot traffic has largely returned to physical stores, even as omnichannel solutions and digital channels have become the new normal. So what does the future hold for physical stores, and how are retailers planning on improving the store experience for both customers and employees? 

In terms of store improvements, the most popular answer was implementing new technologies for marketing and promotions, such as text messaging, followed by implementing new in-store processes to improve transaction times and reduce wait times. 

Retailers are also investing in technologies to improve the employee experience. With a massively high turnover of frontline store associates, it’s essential to improve training practices and implement training technologies, as well as invest in employee incentive programs — which were the two most popular answers. 

Looking further forward, opinion is largely mixed on how the role of the physical telecom retail store will evolve over the next five years. iQmetrix’s Trish Sale said, Retail is moving into that hybrid space where customers are expecting to interact in multiple ways with a given brand, and see the store as an extension of their other points of contact with the brand. It’s not that physical retail is disappearing, but that Interconnected Commerce is becoming a key way that the telecom industry interacts with its retail customers.” 

Top 5 answers

How are you planning to improve your brand’s retail customer experience over the next three years? 

37.50 Implementing new technologies for marketing and promotions, such as text messaging 


34.09 Implementing in-store processes to improve transaction times and reduce wait times


34.09 Improving pre- and post-purchase customer support services 


30.68% Implementing more unified commerce strategies to create a seamless online to in-store journey 


30.68% Finding new ways to improve brand consistency across all channels and outlets 


Top 5 answers

How are you planning to improve the employee experience in your retail stores over the next three years? 

63.64% Improving staff training practices and/​or implementing new training technologies 

63.64 percent

55.68% Adding or improving employee incentive and reward programs 


44.32% Implementing employee performance measurement tools 


38.64% Improving issues management processes and/​or implementing issues management technology tools 


28.41% Implementing advance workforce scheduling tools


Augmenting the Retail Reality 

With so much coverage of the rapid rise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, along with some of the Augmented Reality/​Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and holographic technology on display at events such as the Consumer Electronics Show, it is important to explore their potential future impact on telecom retail. And, sci-fi-like technologies aside, what does the future of telecom retail look like in terms of consumer purchasing habits and shopping channels? 

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said it was either very or somewhat likely that there would be considerable growth in AI and machine-learning being used to analyze customer data and retail patterns/​buying behavior, which is then used to shape retail strategies” — making this practical application the top answer in our AI/AR/VR question. 

Using AI for customer service is another key trend, deemed the second-most likely to grow over the next few years by survey respondents. iQmetrix’s Stacy Hamer is seeing this play out in client conversations, too. She said, I’m fascinated that three times in the last week, this idea of an AI-powered or in-store virtual assistant has come up in client discussions. So, there is an appetite to think about it and talk about it, which suggests that it could soon be a reality.” 

As for the future of consumer purchasing habits and where respondents see the focus? Just like in our last survey two years ago, the top-selected answer — by more than three-quarters of respondents — was greater focus on customer loyalty and rewards programs to upsell and increase consumer spend.” Given that competition is continuing to increase in the wireless space, especially from wireline companies entering the market and successfully luring subscribers with attractive bundling options, it’s perhaps not surprising. 

Hamer agrees wholeheartedly with this assessment and thinks consumers’ loyalty to their existing points schemes could be key to this. It’s not about winning the new subscriber race anymore; it’s about winning the customer loyalty race.” 

Top 5 answers

How do you see the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented/​Virtual Reality (AR/VR), and hologram technology shaping the retail experience over the next five years? 

Considerable growth in AI and machine-learning being used to analyze customer data and retail patterns/​buying behavior, which is then used to shape retail strategies 

Considerable growth in AI-powered chatbots in online customer support or in-store virtual assistant roles 

Much more use of AI and machine learning in managing inventory/​distribution/​warehousing

Considerable growth in AI and machine-learning being used to personalize the customer experience, and offer product recommendations and custom promotions 

Advancement in use of in-store Augmented Reality (such as displays that customers scan that pop out promotions and information on their device, etc.) to create more phygital” retail experiences

Top 5 answers

Where do you see the future of telecom retail expanding over the next five years, in terms of purchasing channels? 

Greater focus on customer loyalty and rewards programs to upsell and increase consumer spend

Much greater brand channel integration, creating increased customer visibility into inventory availability

Much greater prevalence of pop-up wireless kiosks at events, in public places, at stadiums, etc.

Much more purchasing through channels such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, live-stream shopping, etc.

Much greater prevalence of multi-carrier stores-within-stores – e.g., wireless kiosks in grocery or big-box stores, or in malls

View the full 2023 Trends in Telecom Retail report, including all survey findings and expert commentary from industry leaders

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