Over the last several months we have been discussing the post-COVID comeback strategies and priorities with our top retail customers and one thing has come out clear and certain - “Retail in the post-COVID era will never be the same again.”
The fear unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered retail stores across the globe. This has led to retailers looking for ways to ensure business continuity and make up for losses that have happened over the last few months. As governments mandate people to stay indoors and the chances of stores re-opening is still a matter of contention, it is natural that consumers will turn to online shopping. It is imperative for retailers therefore, to give serious thought to digital channels as the dominant distribution channel for the next few months until the pandemic subsides. Based on secondary research and customer sentiments gleaned first-hand, here are some of the technology trends that are expected to unravel in retail in the near future.
COVID has brought about a significant change in the consumer mindset and shopping patterns. Online traffic to supermarket sites grew a whopping 135 % in the week ending April 26. To survive and compete in these uncertain times, retailers must adopt a digital-first approach in all their crucial business operations. E-commerce was slated to double by 2023, but the pandemic has accelerated this growth leaving retailers no option but to quickly scale their offerings by adopting a digitally enhanced and responsive omnichannel strategy. Retailers of the who did not have the foresight to grow their eCommerce skills fear missing the bus unless they quickly reorganize their business and really embrace an agile start-up mindset and ways of working that go with that.
Not surprisingly, the online traffic to “retail-tech” websites has also grown by a staggering 128.4% in the week ending April 26. This points to the fact that retailers are pursuing the digital transformation journey in earnest to cater to changing consumer behavior. The retail tech landscape is populated with companies that are changing the way retailers connect, engage, and drive a digital revolution in retail. Retail tech companies provide solutions for modernizing instore operations, boost supply chain efficiency, and enhance the customer experience. In a bid to attract customers to their stores, large retailers are collaborating with technology companies to provide exclusive in-store experience to customers that will result in better brand recall.
In an omnichannel world, customers expect an integrated experience across all devices and channels. Retailers, therefore, need to adopt an omnichannel retail strategy along with an enterprise-wide inventory management system to remain profitable. As the economies re-open, stores will become spaces to enhance customer experience, arrange for an in-store pick-up, and conduct reverse logistics. Forrester Research reported that close to one-third of U.S. adults prefer the "click and collect" option to avoid a wasted trip to the store. Concept stores such as the Nova store from Alert Robotics have introduced automation and robotics in the warehouse to efficiently fulfill online orders. By making use of loyalty apps customers can buy their regular items from their devices which are retrieved and packed in the warehouse by robots and ready for pickup. The customers still have the option to browse and buy items from the storefront. This makes a perfect blend of an engaging experience and a time-saving opportunity for busy shoppers. Therefore, technology will enable retailers to offer an integrated experience to customers by monitoring, refreshing, and restocking inventory in real-time and keeping a check on variations in the pricing and SKU movement.
The after-effects of COVID will last for a long time, but that does not mean people will shun the idea of going out and shopping altogether. It is the responsibility of the retailers to provide their customers with a safe environment to shop and have a pleasant experience. Digital transformation will have a greater role to play in ensuring social distancing norms are followed without having to engage extra personnel and complicated guidelines. Technology can help protect customers and frontline staff by effectively managing the venue capacity.
Technology companies have offered solutions that include the use of sensors and people counters to alert staff where maximum capacity has been reached. Hughes Systique’s Intelligent Monetization Platform (IMP), which is an intelligence layer that sits alongside the store’s existing infrastructure such as Wi-Fi and cameras, helps monitor adherence of social distancing through its zone-based analytics and creates live heat maps are which are displayed on digital displays and can alert store personnel to take remedial action.
“Contactless” will be the new normal in retail and technology companies will help retailers achieve this through multiple technologies. Retailers are of the opinion that once lockdown eases customers will avoid crowded stores and will prefer contactless shopping. Augmented and virtual reality is expected to gain importance as a preferred technology in retail. For instance, furniture supplier, WoodenStreet is all set to provide customers a virtual tour of their home decorated with furniture and decor from their collection. Users can get virtual tours from their homes with the help of 3D visualization about the different furniture setups. This is to ensure that physical visits can be minimized, and users can get an in-store experience right from their home. Following the Amazon Go example, 7-Eleven, a popular Convenience Store giant has begun cashier-less, check-out free store at its corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas.
Contactless payment technology has been pushed to the mainstream due to COVID as the potential of contamination at point-of-sale systems is a driving factor according to a recent Mastercard Survey. As customers are gravitating towards contactless payments, retailers are collaborating with technology companies to begin introducing packaged APIs that can connect with mobile apps and enable smaller and mid-sized retailers to offer app-based contactless payments.
COVID 19 has disrupted the retail sector and has brought about a sea change in the way consumers shop. To keep with these changing times, retailers will adopt new-age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, 3D printing, AR & VR, and Robotics to ensure that not only they comply with the laws but are also able to give confidence to customers.
(P.S: This article was originally published here.)
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