The retail spaces that shoppers will return to following the COVID-19 pandemic won't be the same ones they shopped in previously. Associates and consumers will have to develop and adjust to new shopping behaviors that minimize physical touch and closeness. This period will be marked by innovation and experimentation, as retailers attempt to drive increased sales despite new limitations on shopper capacity. As merchants of all sizes re-imagine what the customer experience will look like as they begin rebuilding after the pandemic, forward-thinking retailers are turning to new technologies and devices to improve the shopping experience.
Retail’s Great Acceleration
Though many retail technologies that are poised for growth have existed for some time, current circumstances have accelerated their adoption. For example, mobile and contactless payment technology, popular in other markets but slower to penetrate the U.S., may finally see mainstream adoption. In fact, over half (58 percent) of surveyed consumers who have used contactless payments in the past are more likely to use them now than before the outbreak. Retailers will likely invest in checkout and payment solutions that place more control in the hands of individual customers, such as self-scanning mobile devices. This technology removes one more physical touchpoint between the customer and store associate, while also hastening the checkout experience and aiding line busting.
Armed with enterprise-class mobile devices, managers and associates will be better able to ensure store cleanliness. Standardized disinfection will become a regular process even after the pandemic is over as more stores focus on health and safety measures. In addition to mobile devices, other technologies, such as UV lights, will likely increase in popularity to help clean stores and reduce the spread of bacteria. Research has found the use of sunlight and the UV part of its spectrum can be an effective tool for fighting the virus and its airborne pathogens. The increased focus on store cleanliness will also ensure retailers are making consumers more comfortable when shopping with them.
Rethinking Store Design in the Age of Social Distancing
Physically, stores will have to account for social distancing by expanding open space, minimizing lines and limiting touchpoints. Consumers will behave differently as shopping, once a leisure activity, now requires preparation and planning. As consumers do more mission-shopping, mobile customer service tools will become much more powerful and influence retailers’ interactive experiences. Flexible, modular designs will allow retailers to adjust in the face of unanticipated future needs. Movable self-service kiosks, for instance, provide an efficient solution for checkout that can evolve along with standards for social distancing.
Driving Efficiency With Omnichannel Inventory Management
Many retailers are experiencing a large uptick in e-commerce sales as a result of COVID-19, creating a greater need for improved inventory management. Delivering on convenience and safety via efficient curbside pickup or delivery fulfillment improves the shopping experience and customer loyalty — giving retailers a leg up on the competition. Ensuring that experience gets customers what they need without substitutions or delays requires precise inventory management. Accordingly, retailers in nearly every sector can benefit from applying prescriptive analytics to understand demand, keep shelves stocked, and avoid sudden supply chain issues. Additionally, sensing and automation solutions can provide better real-time data for this analysis as well as reduce labor costs associated with maintaining accurate inventory levels.
Looking Forward to a New Shopping Experience
Even beyond the needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers have recognized the necessity for flexibility when it comes to future-proofing their businesses. There's no telling which consumer behaviors are here to stay and which are simply in response to the global pandemic. Instead, individual retailers will be able to identify their own unique opportunities to evolve in a way that best suits their business. Though the future of retail may not look like what we pictured at the outset of the year, retailers can leverage technology to create new shopping experiences and better prepare for future challenges.
To learn more about technology solutions that can help retailers rebuild after the pandemic and improve the customer experience, please click here.
Anees Haidri is the director of vertical strategy for retail at Zebra Technologies, an enterprise technology and services company empowering those on the front line in retail, healthcare, transportation and logistics, manufacturing, and other industries to achieve a performance edge.
Related story: 2020 Retail Technology Report
Anees Haidri is Director of Vertical Strategy for Retail at Zebra Technologies, an enterprise technology and services company empowering those on the front line in retail, health care, transportation and logistics, manufacturing and other industries to achieve a performance edge.
He is responsible for positioning growth opportunities and providing thought leadership within retail for Zebra Technologies. Anees has more than 15 years of experience within the retail industry and has deployed multiple, large scale edge device solutions for a Fortune 30 retailer. In addition, Anees has over 20 years of experience in building customer focused mobility solutions within a variety of industries. Previously, he served as a Sr. Director of Technology at The Home Depot, where he managed high performing teams aimed at building customer-focused technology solutions for stores & merchandising. Anees holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers University.