Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Who’s really to know when we can classify living in a “Post-COVID-19 World,” seeing as how the virus is still rapidly spreading through the country and even vast parts of Europe? We’re all still technically living through these odd times, so who’s to say when industries will start returning to ‘normal’ operations? It’s likely that the times we’re living in currently are the new normal, but there’s much to address as we go forward especially in Retail and Hospitality service environments. Several organizations have ventured into the world of digital innovation and won’t be cycling in reverse any time soon. Retailers, especially, have been hit hard by various COVID-19 restrictions and the following operational execution has not been possible without a pretty noticeable digital transformation in the vertical market.
This digital era has focused primarily on customers and their experiences while shopping and/or spending time in these areas. The pandemic has allowed for an unpredictable pattern in customer behavior to make itself known, especially since there are so many new and changing mandates put in place by governing bodies, such as face mask guidelines and social distancing rules. Customers’ needs expanded overnight, it feels like, and retail shops have refocused their intentions to build better foundations upon fulfilling their expectations via digital solutions.
BOPIS, Curbside Pickup, and advanced last-mile delivery options were just a few of the creative strategies utilized to help keep business flowing, during a time where people were unable to leave their homes and browse through retail shops on their time. In retail, digital transformation summarizes the need for using technology to improve existing processes, increase revenue streams, and implement new business models that are built to last and come at an affordable arm’s length.
A Digitized Ecosystem
As retailers move forward into their upgraded digitized ecosystem, they’ll need to learn to rely on integrating every piece of pie, from the work that goes into the supply chain, data centers, and even the in-person retail technology, the data is constantly flowing in and with that being said, customers will continue to expect personalized experiences from here on out. Changes in shopper behavior were recorded due to customers fearing human contact due to the virus’ reach. As the new year is now upon us, retailers must continue to digest the vast of amount of change that 2020 brought on, while also embracing new trends in retail technology that are continuing to swiftly unfold.
Retailers, moving forward, will need to rationalize their store’s footprint, and reimagining their stores to serve a digitally-enabled purpose, through that of fulfilling omni-channel experiences for their wide range of customers. Thinking outside the box, retailers are able to harness such digital capabilities to enhance future in-store and online experiences.
As stores begin to reopen in accordance with compliance guidelines, and the steady foot traffic returns many companies are open to the idea of omni-channel opportunities, such as BOPIS, same-day pickup/delivery to enhance customer service virtues. The omni-channel opens up an outlet to continue onward with a sense of continuity during these uncertain times, especially with the ease and efficiency of e-commerce, the personalization of digital retail, and the familiarity brought on through various physical brick-and-mortar experiences.
Back to Brick + Mortar? I bet we all find ourselves wondering when the normalcy of shopping in-store will pick back up, and it’s likely that the times before COVID-19, won’t ever make a resurgence, nor will they ever be the same for both the customer-side and the employer’s perspective. The days of digital shopping are among us, and social media, YouTube videos, mobile apps, brand website, and general word-of-mouth flow are the newly, most trusted sources for interested consumers, nowadays.
From a technical stance, digital tools are being leveraged to uncover additional customer service experiences. Many are opting to lean on more machine learning based demand forecasting to better maximize traditional approaches, so chatbots and social media platforms are utilized to deliver more personalized experiences with customers by addressing them by first names with specialized offers to provide inclusivity. Retailers can seek to combine the two worlds (in-store and online) in a perfect harmony by introducing AR, VR, Robotics, AI, and IoT-based solutions into their environment to help deliver a better shopping experience for everyone to enjoy.
Thanks to COVID-19…
The pandemic has unlocked a new desire for adopting digitally enhanced retail tactics to keep customers consistently shopping time and time again, especially during the virus’s duration. Customers have discovered such strategies are reporting shorter wait times in store, lower costs of delivery fees, more reliable fulfillment capabilities in such time-saving efforts.
- Contactless Payments – this trend was no stranger to the scene, but got a lot of face-time this past year, due to the rapid spread of the virus. Back in March of 2020, many voiced concerns about the virus’s ability to spread to others through touching and interacting with hardware devices such as payment systems and door handles. Due to that finding, no-touch payments have increased by 69% for retailers since January 2020. Big grocery store chains such as Kroger and CVS were a few of the many who adopted this idea to help keep their employees and customers safe.
- Buy now, Pay Later – We all know about ‘Buy Online, Pickup in Store’ or BOPIS, but now in a true ‘layaway’ format, there is Buy Now, Pay Later. Several online boutique shops have introduced financing modules, to help ease the pain of purchasing items and forking over the full payment. These payments can be divided up into interest-free installments, simplifying the process for the consumer. As we venture further into the retail spectrum that 2021 can provide, it’s likely retailers will view BNPL options as a positive opportunity to connect with their consumers, rather than a liability.
The retail environment is always changing and thanks to the pandemic many were thrust forward into ‘futuristic strategies’ because it was either adapt or fall back, when it came to surviving the Pandemic’s initial attacks. A retailer’s willingness to adopt new and improving technological tactics is what will help their business stay popular, relevant, and consumed by their general consumer base. If you’re interested in diving deeper into how these new and incoming trends are impacting the retail world, be sure to check out our podcast covering the subject, with Honeywell’s Karen Bomber.