Walking into a brick-and-mortar store today feels a bit apocalyptic. Employees now don gloves, facemasks and even the occasional face shield for added protection. There are stickers meticulously placed at six-foot intervals in front of checkout counters to help consumers abide by social distancing rules. Plexiglass shields now act as a protective barrier between cashiers and shoppers.
Then, to comply with health and safety regulations and ensure customers feel safe and comfortable, retail stores must also control the number of employees and shoppers in-store, offer faster service, and make accommodations for more self-service options.
Those efforts are well worth the investment. When consumers feel more comfortable shopping, they're more likely to do so, as evidenced profoundly in the expansion of curbside and in-store pickup.
Best Buy recently reported a 250 percent increase in online sales after prioritizing better pickup and delivery options. In what's being described as the "coronavirus effect," Target also saw a 278 percent growth in its curbside pickup, in-store pickup, and Shipt delivery sales.
We're watching the retail landscape morph right in front of our eyes. The pandemic hasn't only increased the frequency of shopping, but it's changed what consumers expect from retailers, especially e-commerce sites.
In one study, six out of 10 shoppers reported switching from their primary brands to retail giants like Amazon.com because of their convenience and affordability. In fact, Amazon Marketplace sellers have already reported selling over 3.4 billion products this year alone, up almost 30 percent year-over-year.
These shifting expectations aren’t going away anytime soon; customers report that they plan on exhibiting the same shopping behavior post-pandemic, too. Consumers will no longer tolerate a subpar shopping experience. Therefore, retailers must re-examine both their digital and in-person offerings to make shopping a more safe, accessible and comfortable experience.
There are right and wrong ways of doing this. Retailers that own physical locations first and transition to the digital realm later often make the mistake of replicating the in-person experience online. This is problematic because customers don't want these two shopping experiences to mirror one another, and retailers shouldn't either. Technology has opened up a world of capabilities that are impossible to replicate in person, so it’s worth thinking about these as completely different (but integrated) shopping experiences.
When it comes to the online experience, customer service is paramount. While online chat functions and speedy social media responses are table stakes, some stores are using advanced technology like artificial intelligence (AI) to truly elevate the customer experience. AI can answer customer questions in real time and field time-consuming requests and complaints. It can even predict customer returns with an 83.2 percent accuracy, which enables retailers to take preventative measures like customizing shipping rates to reduce the number of returns.
Retailers can also utilize mobile apps that track a customer's shopping patterns and make product recommendations for similar items. Personalized algorithms make shopping faster and easier, which results in happier customers — while at the same time increasing sales. Some brands are starting to use tools that promote inclusivity, something consumers have been asking from retailers for years. ASOS, for example, has begun incorporating augmented reality into its website so consumers can see what each clothing item would look like on a range of body types.
Consumer-facing technology isn't the only investment you can make to create a better shopping experience for your customers. Retailers that invest in software to streamline their back-end capabilities will see those benefits extend to shoppers as well, creating a more streamlined and pleasing experience.
For example, today’s PLM and ERP software can help retailers track inventory and sales activity more accurately across multiple channels, and in real time. Features like predictive analytics can also help retailers better predict consumer shopping behavior, qualify leads, and fine-tune their marketing. This is what excites me so much about the industry today. I saw a need at the intersection of retail and technology that wasn't being fulfilled, so I created something that helped solve a need for many retailers.
Of course, while there are huge opportunities for digital retailers to promote a better shopping experience in the midst of a pandemic, brick-and-mortar stores haven't completely lost consumer interest either. So how can physical locations attract more foot traffic in the midst of a pandemic?
The answer lies in the psychology behind stores benefitting from holding events and offering special experiences for shoppers. When people can see, touch and try on items, they're more likely to buy them.
Since the latter two aren't possible during the pandemic, some stores are appealing even more to shoppers’ sense of sight to encourage browsing with less contact.
Nike's House of Innovation in New York, Shanghai, and Paris is a great example. The brand is now giving customers a new sensory experience that's brought on by huge digital displays that showcase its products. Because the way consumers shop has changed, retailers have to give people who are physically able to do so a reason to shop during this time.
These new strategies aren't just a short-term fix for retailers looking to make up lost sales volume during a pandemic. While that's no doubt important, especially for small and midsized retailers, these adjustments show customers a profound respect for their comfort and safety, fostering long-term loyalty that will keep them coming back even after the pandemic is over.
Brandon Ginsberg is the CEO of ApparelMagic, the fashion industry's apparel software choice for ERP, PLM, CRM, inventory management software, accounting software, training, and support.
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Brandon Ginsberg is the CEO of ApparelMagic, the industry’s top apparel management software favored by multinational fashion brands and niche labels alike. Under Ginsberg’s leadership, ApparelMagic provides powerful end-to-end business solutions to apparel companies worldwide.
Though Brandon Ginsberg is recognized today as a leading expert at the intersection of fashion and technology, his background is not your typical executive success story. It begins in high school when he started working for ApparelMagic at just fifteen years old.
As a young teenager, Ginsberg offered tech support to ApparelMagic’s founder, John Murphy. Ginsberg’s enthusiasm and tech-savvy did not go unnoticed. When Ginsberg turned seventeen, Murphy tapped him to help revamp their legacy software, an easy decision given Ginsberg’s coding proficiency and knack for providing sound strategic counsel at a young age.