The retail industry has been rocked by the worldwide market disruption created by COVID-19. Despite the unprecedented challenges retailers are facing, consumers are still heavily shopping. In fact, Cyber Monday 2020 saw the highest spending for the holiday to date. According to Adobe Analytics, Cyber Monday wrapped up 2020 with $10.8 billion in sales, representing a 15 percent increase year-over-year and setting a record for the biggest online sales day in U.S. history.
Zebra Technologies’ 13th annual Global Shopper Study reinforced that consumers’ basic motivations haven't changed during the pandemic. The study, which included feedback from more than 5,000 shoppers, store associates and retail executives globally, found consumers are seeking safe, speedy and convenient shopping experiences while maintaining basic expectations that items will be readily available at the best value.
Fulfillment is also crucial to the customer experience, given the increase in e-commerce and shopper demands for rapid delivery and easy returns. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that supply chain transformation will continue, with retailers investing in everything from micro-fulfillment centers to dark stores. Fulfillment is a critical final touchpoint with shoppers that can make or break the outcome of a customer’s experience. Therefore, it’s essential retailers are set up for success. Even after the pandemic subsides, shopping habits will likely not fully return to what they were before the start of 2020. Retailers will need to meet this increased demand for timely fulfillment now and going forward.
Every crisis, however, provides opportunity, and retailers can meet the moment by leveraging technology solutions to better deliver on shopper expectations. Here are three ways retailers can thrive in the pandemic-impacted marketplace:
1. Get Omnichannel Right
Although consumers continue to move more toward online shopping and mobile ordering, in-store shopping is still alive and preferred by many. Today’s shoppers are savvy and flexible — if they can’t get an item in-store, they'll head online, or vice versa. They leverage both channels for the most practical reasons — product availability, product selection, and price comparison.
As shoppers increasingly blend the channels to suit in-the-moment needs, it’s becoming more vital for retailers to provide a seamless customer experience both online and offline. According to a recent survey SmartBrief conducted with IDC, consumers are basing their decisions on where to shop based on services like buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS); curbside/drive-up pickup; and omnichannel return options. For consumers that continue to make in-store purchases, findings show that more than half (59 percent) are basing where they shop on if the store offers contactless payment options. Retailers that don't embrace this hybrid or unified commerce model risk their own long-term success.
With omnichannel taking center stage, retailers still face many challenges, from inventory visibility and fulfilling increased online orders to keeping their shelves stocked and even navigating a higher volume of returns. These challenges require a unified commerce model that maximizes all aspects of the retail ecosystem.
2. Prioritize Both Shopper and Associate Safety
The global pandemic has everyone feeling anxious, and safety concerns with in-store shopping for essential items is a big component of that. While safety concerns are common right now, Zebra’s study revealed that there's actually a sizeable trust gap between retail executives, associates, and shoppers when it comes to health and safety. While 90 percent of retail decision-makers think shoppers and associates trust them to make health and safety a priority, only 65 percent of shoppers and 77 percent of associates agree.
Shoppers and associates are concerned about surface sanitation and social exposure in stores as well as social distancing. Technology is key to mitigating those concerns. Retailers should consider implementing tools such as contact tracing apps, self and mobile checkouts, personal shopping solutions, and touch-free technology — which the NRF predicts will become a mainstream part of the shopping experience in 2021 and beyond. Zebra’s study also found that more shoppers prefer to know if their items are in the store before venturing out. Over half (57 percent) of surveyed shoppers reported placing an order online for in-store delivery, and another 29 percent said they check inventory of products before visiting a store.
3. Modernize Technology to Create New Experiences
Retailers are actively moving to address and improve customer experiences, from in-store innovations to online integration and emerging technologies. Whether it’s enhancing the curbside/pickup delivery experience or providing handheld mobile devices to associates to better serve shoppers on the store floor, retailers need to continue to invest in technology to meet the needs of consumers. If there's one thing to take away from 2020, it's that retail technology spending plans were accelerated, and that shift will only continue.
Emerging technologies like smart checkout, artificial intelligence-powered workforce software, and prescriptive analytics will be top of mind for retailers over the next five years, as solution providers help them unlock new levels of performance within their businesses. Other investments that will be highly popular in the next few years are intelligent automation solutions, which include automated data capture, physical automation, and decision automation. Robots that work in tandem with human associates, commonly known as cobots, will continue to rise in popularity. As retailers adopt these more intelligent technologies, they'll need to develop a common point of orchestration to ensure that automation systems can augment human workers to achieve the highest levels of productivity improvement.
While the retail landscape is quickly shifting, technology will be a critical aspect for retailers to ensure continued growth and stay ahead of the competition in 2021 and beyond.
Shawn Harris is director of North America sales, SmartSight, Zebra Technologies.
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Shawn currently leads go-to-market efforts for Zebra’s SmartSight, as Director of North American Sales. Leveraging Zebra’s over 50 years of experience building purpose-built solutions for retail, SmartSight is Zebra’s inaugural intelligent automation service offering for retail. In this role, Mr. Harris helps Zebra’s retail customers navigate the ever-changing retail landscape and truly digitize their store floors. He provides thought leadership, pragmatic insights and innovative solutions on issues pertaining to the implications of Intelligent Automation and Artificial Intelligence for business strategy, customer experience, inventory visibility and staff productivity.
Mr. Harris’ passion rests in brick-and-mortar and digital retail technology, operations and customer experiences. That has spilled over into supply chain management; he has a strong understanding of the complexity of the timebound matching of supply to demand.
He has been involved with store systems, ecommerce, and order management technologies for over 15 years and has served in various management and consulting roles with tier-one retailers, including TJX Cos, Staples, BJ’s, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and Uniqlo (Fast Retailing). Mr. Harris also founded a luxury menswear brand, which most was known for designing and manufacturing clothing for some of New England’s most regarded corporate executives and professional athletes across the country.
Mr. Harris keeps a keen eye on what’s potentially next, by staying closely involved in the Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley startup communities. He recently served as the program lead for the Startup Leadership Program and has participated in startup programs through XRC Labs, Techstars, MassChallenge and New York Fashion Tech Lab.
Before his career in retail, Mr. Harris helped to start e4eNet as the vice president of global operations. e4eNet was a cloud-based enterprise platform that handled the design for manufacturing process for printed circuit boards (PCBs), e4eNet was ultimately sold to IBM. Prior to e4Enet, Mr. Harris worked for IBM in a number of technical capacities and honorably served in the Army National Guard as an infantryman and armored personnel carrier (APC) driver for eight years. He has a deep curiosity for culture and language. He speaks conversational Japanese, and he has traveled to numerous countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia for business. Mr. Harris earned his MBA from Babson College and a bachelor's degree in management information systems from the University of Massachusetts.