With eBay and Amazon forecasting their respective busiest days in the build up to Christmas in the UK, we thought we’d take a look at what some of the UK bricks-and-mortar retailers have in store for us this holiday season. From a technological standpoint, of course.

With more and more retailers investing in technology to bring the in-store experience into the 21st century, it’s interesting to look at how the flagship shops are doing, what with Christmas on the horizon and us being in the decade of mobile.

Research carried out by Virgin Media Business, which looked at what technologies are being used by the the big stores in London’s Oxford Street, has found that almost a quarter (23%) of the ‘flagship stores’ are offering in-store ‘order online’ touchscreen terminals, for store collection or delivery. This basically helps customers avoid queues by self-serving, and they can order stock if it’s not in-store, or if someone wants to ‘try before they buy’, then can do so in-store and then purchase direct from a terminal and have it delivered to their house.

So just to be clear what we mean here by flagship stores, we’re talking about the likes of John Lewis, Gap, Topshop, Selfridges, Debenhams etc – the big guys.

Anyone who’s been shopping on Oxford Street will know it can get a bit unpleasant on an average weekend, so just imagine what it’s like at Christmas. To help reduce the queues, Niketown has attendants taking payments on mobile devices around the store, whilst John Lewis has announced plans to offer free WiFi to shoppers in all its department stores nationwide by Christmas – like something you see in-store? Tap into the free WiFi and buy there and then, bypassing any horrendous queues.

The move to mobile

Many of the big stores are starting to embrace mCommerce. Virgin’s research showed that almost two-thirds (61%) of the flagship stores on Oxford Street have an mCommerce offering, whilst almost half (46%) have an app. Both the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Google added that mobile searches within consumer retail have grown 168%  year-on-year, so the focus on mCommerce is likely to continue to grow.

Christmas is one of the most profitable seasons for retailers. Last year’s online Christmas sales hit £2.8bn, up 44% on the previous year, and with one pound in every ten now being spent online, it’s likely we could see records broken again this Christmas.

But Phil Stewart, director customer service at Virgin Media Business, said that it’s a multi-channel approach that “will hone and improve the customer experience and ultimately make a retailer successful”.

“New high-bandwidth connectivity options for UK retailers are enabling the use of more innovative technology to improve the shoppers’ experience and provide that essential USP to attract customers in a highly competitive market”, continued Stewart. “By making the right technology decisions, both in store and online, both retailers and consumers stand to get the benefits from this new digital era.”

Nearly all the flagship stores researched had a Facebook page and Twitter profile, whilst it was noted that Debenhams is offering a “free coffee Friday” via Foursquare, something it first trialled way back in 2010. The person who visited a location most frequently over a 30-day period became the Mayor, and they were then entitled to free coffee whenever they visited.

Yesterday, we reported that Nokia was launching 26 free WiFi hotspots across London, one of which covers the Oxford Street area, so city shoppers could soon be well-covered for doing a spot of research and shopping on the move.