For the past few years retailers were intuitively aware that acquiring and integrating new technologies were the most critical steps to take in order to be aligned with  the future of retail. However, the decision making processes were long as the digitalization of retail was still a vague concept and the expected return on those technological investments were still not concrete. This notion of vagueness and the time taken to make the investments have dramatically changed when COVID-19 crisis starting at the beginning of 2020 hit the retailers with drastic consequences. The impact of the pandemic caused major shifts that drove retailers to adapt to new solutions faster than usual and the acceleration became a “survival of the fittest” issue.

In traditional physical shopping, customers are expected to wait at each step of the entire shopping experience due to inefficient processes in operation. However in March  2020, shoppers stopped going to stores and during the minimum visits they made to the stores, all they wanted was to purchase and go. The need for efficiency suddenly became a must have, rather than a nice to have.

Bridging the gap between customers and store associates

Having loyal and satisfied customers requires meeting their needs in the best way possible but inefficiencies and difficulty of accessing the needed data causes losing customers. To avoid wasting customers’ time as they are waiting for store associates to find their product or to disappoint them not finding it, retailers  had to find new solutions that provide efficient store operations. These solutions had to ease access to product and inventory information, and enable mobile checkout in seconds without leaving the customer’s side.

Providing efficient self shopping experience 

As the major lockdown eased, brick and mortar stores reopened under the condition of providing hygiene and social distancing. Not just retailers, but also customers were affected due to the restrictions, social distancing, queuing up for entry in retail stores, maintaining personal hygiene, and other preventive measures and these concerns made them lean to brands that provide better services while taking care of their safety. This accelerated the demand for transformation more than ever. To meet the need of having safety shopping and to complete shopping the fastest way possible, some stores located kiosks to allow customers shop without any interaction. What store associates were offering in the store, can now be done by customers from reaching the product and inventory info to purchasing.

Equipping sales associates with the necessary tools to maximize efficiency as well as sales has become inevitable. Decision making processes that enabled the penetration of such technologies to the stores has become  of critical importance.

Integrating online and offline stores

Probably the most transforming experience of the retail domain took place in online shopping. We have witnessed the slow but steady rise of ecommerce in recent years, however the upward graphic  has never been this steep as it was in the past few months. It is clearly understood that  retailers who adopted omnichannel strategies and unified commerce systems adapted to unexpected market forces way more solidly. An omnichannel infrastructure facilitated an ease of operation in managing the inventory, in monitoring accurate and real time data and avoiding stock outs. The ability to support ecommerce transactions with store inventories made all the difference when the demand for online shopping has dramatically increased and created different challenges for retailers.

Even if some of the precautions taken for the pandemic are nearly subsided, some shopping habits haven’t been brought back and have changed permanently. As a result, the brands that have been already blending physical and online channels by experiencing digital transformation didn’t get as much affected as the ones that had no second plan.  The future of retail seems so much more integrated than ever before. The integration of online and offline will determine the survival record for the post-covid era.

As we find out from the new normal so far that retailers have much ground to cover, and time is of the essence. Seeing all channels as an entire operation is crucial to enable the business work as a whole, successful, and efficient unit. What shouldn’t be seen apart from the customer experience is how the entire operation works and now bringing them into balance is just possible with smart integrated technologies. The new normal is still taking shape and is in process to become better everyday while customer expectations are still shifting. Retailers who respond to these needs with agile and innovative solutions will strengthen their ties with customers and operate their stores much more efficiently.

References

(1) https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/adapting-to-the-next-normal-in-retail-the-customer-experience-imperative

(2) https://www.mytotalretail.com/article/the-future-of-retail-after-covid-19