Retail Post Covid-19: How Technology ensures an Omnichannel Experience while remaining Profitable

retail-post-covid-19
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Consumer behaviour has forever transformed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail, like all other industries, has been disrupted in its own ways. To begin with, the closure of most physical stores due to lockdown measures and social distancing has left retail businesses looking for new channels to reach their customers. 

Retail has seen one of the most significant shifts till date after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemicRetail consumers are adopting digital commerce and omnichannel modes of purchase and this is likely to stay post-COVID-19.

As per Accenture’s research, there will be a 160% rise in eCommerce purchases from new and low-frequency consumers. 

So what does it mean for retail organizations? Those who viewed digital and omnichannel networks as secondary need to reorganize their strategies to point towards them.

There’s an opportunity here to increase revenue channels and onboard new customers but only the use of technology can help organizations to scale these services appropriately. Let’s find out how.

How retail post COVID 19 will change?

Now that a lot of countries are starting to lift lockdown measures, retail stores will begin to re-open. Amidst the uncertainty, one thing is certain – retail stores will never be the same again. COVID-19’s permanent effect on consumer behaviour has to be taken into account going forward to design their strategies. 

Retailers who had a digital-first mindset and an omnichannel approach have responded better than the ones who gave preference to physical stores and face-to-face engagement. They have been able to quickly enrich the omnichannel experience for their customers and will be able to recover faster from the damages.

Let’s go through a few phenomena that are indicating this shift towards omnichannel models and which will stay even post-COVID-19.

#Change 1: The visible shift to eCommerce & home delivery

As we’ve already mentioned above, there’s a rising shift towards online shopping & home delivery and the trend is here to stay. Retailers have seen visible peaks in categories like make-up where in-store was the mode of choice earlier. Consumer segments which earlier preferred offline shopping (like GenZers and baby boomers) are also turning to online shopping.

This phenomenon is likely to stay in the retail post COVID-19 scenario. For instance, apparel executives are anticipating a 13% increase in online penetration and grocery deliveries have risen by 57% (McKinsey survey). 

Sinking store sales, cut-throat competition, operational complexity have started to hurt profit margins. For instance, retail margins in the UK have declined by 2 percentage points since 2013. (McKinsey report, 2020).

To stay relevant, legacy retailers must prepare for the next normal with eCommerce strategies, redefining store operations & networks.

#Change 2: Revamped store experiences

Retail stores must redefine experiences and offer compelling value propositions as store footfall plummets. In-person interactions are taking a backseat and there’s a greater spotlight on minimum touchpoints and last-mile delivery models. 

This has given rise to a few omnichannel experiences like buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup and drive-thru models. These changes in consumer behaviour trends will be visible in retail Post-Covid-19 scenarios as well. For instance, about 56% consumers expressed willingness to continue using the BOPIS model after the pandemic. 

Retailers are being forced to transform from single-use self service buildings to multi-use click and collect models. With mounting market & margin pressures combined with these phenomena, retailers have no choice but to embrace the technological revolution.

#Change 3: Contactless payments

Contactless payments is the buzzword as customers shy away from handling cash or touching POS terminals. Instead they are opting for contactless card or mobile payment alternatives.

Globally, 22% of connected customers used digital wallets to purchase at least one item in a brick-and-mortar store (Euromonitor International Digital Consumer Survey, 2020).

#Change 4: Omnichannel Fulfillment & resilient supply chains

Though eCommerce is driving sales, physical stores will continue to hold an important place to deliver omnichannel experiences. Stores will double up as fulfillment centers and can cater to the needs of online orders  if the brand has integrated its web and store inventory.

To actualize BOPIS and curbside pickup, brands should ship from a store closest to the customer instead of a remote distribution center. 

Along with order fulfillment in store, supply chains have to be resilient. The pandemic has tested the flexibility of retailers’ supply chain more than ever.

eCommerce supply chains also add cost through complexity and are more expensive than in-store fulfilment. Irregularities in supply chains further add to storage & inventory carrying costs and retailers need to 

How technology plays a significant role in retail Post COVID 19?

The ever-expanding role of technology will be at the heart of this pandemic. The curve of technology adoption such as cloud computing, data, IoTwill only accelerate. Robotics are being used increasingly for automation & cut down on human-to-human interactions. 

Since retail margins have seen a drop because of competitive forces and increased costs of running omnichannel models, the role of technology as a strategic essential has become undeniable.

Re-imagine in-store experiences with digital technology

Retailers are dealing with delivering unique brick-and-mortar experiences that the industry has not seen before. The challenges have also presented opportunities for stores to tap into technology to aid the consumer to seamlessly adapt to the new normal amidst the crisis. 

Some leading retailers have leveraged technology to transform in-store personalized interactions with customers with virtual experiences. Sales associates engage with them via video conferencing apps to help them look for specific products. They are also making use of livestreaming to stay on top of their minds. 

Mobile Applications are playing a crucial role too with companies witnessing record downloads in their existing apps. Others are prioritizing mobile apps and other point-of-sale experiences. Nike China, for instance, saw an increase of 80% rise in weekly active users.

Location-based technologies for omnichannel experiences

With Curbside pickup and BOPIS experiences taking precedence, retail organizations are employing next-generation technologies to improve this experience for customers. For instance, a major restaurant chain called Panera Bread extended its free WiFi radius beyond the cafe doors and used sophisticated geofencing technology so that guests could avail faster seamless curbside pickup experiences.

Another critical source of data stream has been geospatial or location data that dig deeper into customer data and other insights like stores, customer traffic, customer demographics. These data sources are analyzed using Machine Learning algorithms to gain insights to strategize future business.

These insights are used for various purposes like better customer segmentation, planning future marketing strategies keeping competition in mind, route optimization to manage deliveries etc.

AI for Chatbots and Contextual Cross-selling & Up-selling

Since most of retail is going online post COVID-19, the role of AI is becoming even more significant. 66% of customers in a Microsoft survey said that they preferred self-service before talking to a human representative and this is where chatbots come into play. AI chatbots will become ever more significant. 

Next AI-based recommendation algorithms will become extremely relevant at a time when upselling and cross-selling in physical stores has come down to minimum. You can take the help of expert partners to help you build AI algorithms relevant for your business to help with personalized recommendations.

The third way that AI can help you in retail Post COVID 19 scenarios is semantic search. AI in search engines empower them to go beyond search keywords to understand the context of a search query and give exactly what the customer wants as results.

Data & IoT to track store traffic & predict trends

Retailers are trying to answer critical questions like – what is the safest time for at-risk demographics to shop? Which are the most congested stores, zones and times are the most congested? How to optimize store traffic patterns and how congestion can be prevented? 

Essential retailers are using indoor positioning and location-aware technologies within stores to answer such questions using data to inform their store operations and design decisions.

For instance, Indoor positioning and blue dot navigation technology provide shoppers with precise locations within stores so that they can easily find ways to the goods they are seeking. 

Overhead lights can double up as a location-aware IoT network to integrate the digital & physical experiences. It can tap into location data of mobile apps of a customer in-store and help them easily navigate through.

Real-time data at a store chain’s headquarters can help them to track activities of hundreds of stores at different locations. They can predict future trends, demand patterns, optimize prices, validate store design decisions and much more with this data. 

Knoldus can help you navigate the COVID-19 crisis with the right technologies…

At Knoldus, we believe that collaborative efforts will go a long way in managing and responding to this crisis. We highly recommend you to better serve your customers by enhancing the support of digital solutions & prepare for the next normal. Our digital transformation solutions include technologies like Reactive microservices, Fast Data, Artificial Intelligence, Real-time Data Analytics at scale and more.

Knoldus has brought together insights and solutions to help you overcome the COVID-19 business challenges you currently face and help you prepare for the future.

We are also helping our customers in these tough times with Pre-assessments of their current IT infrastructure. If you’re looking for similar solutions to determine gaps to automate your operations, reach out to us. Get in touch with us to schedule a call with our expert or drop us a line at hello@knoldus.com.

Written by 

Niharika has around 3+ years of experience as a Content Professional. She loves writing about technology and the latest trends in the online world although her rich writing experience spans across diverse business domains. Apart from writing, she has also worked on YouTube audience growth strategies. An ambivert by nature, she likes to grab a snack with a warm cup of coffee accompanied by a good book or a close friend.