For retailers, especially those that mainly trade out of physical spaces, the past two years have been challenging to say the least. In many countries, they have experienced long periods of forced closures. Take Australia as an example. In some parts of the country, the initial lockdown lasted 112 days.
However, many retailers managed to keep at least some of their stores open despite this. They are largely now able to trade normally again, but that does not mean that there are no challenges.
The retail landscape has changed drastically
This recent Mandoe Media report showing the current state of retail survey suggests that it will take a while for people to switch from shopping online and return to stores. Here are some of the headline figures and findings:
- Fear of COVID-19 kept shoppers away even once stores reopened. More than half of respondents said they would let their local shops close down to avoid getting COVID-19.
- People are planning to return to physical shopping outlets – 58% said they already felt confident enough to visit retail stores again. A related question in the survey revealed that 54% of them were keen to return and were planning to shop as much, and more, in physical outlets as they did pre-Corona.
Of course, there is more information about how COVID-19 has changed the retail landscape. The above are just the two most important points, but it will still be worth clicking their link above and reading about the rest for most retailers.
A change will be essential
The other important point that the Mandoe Media retail consumer survey picked up on is how keen consumers are to see the way they shop in-store change:
- People want a better in-store shopping experience – One of the things consumers like about shopping online is the fact that it is a really fast and easy way to shop. So, it is not surprising that 66% of shoppers said that they wanted a more efficient in-store experience.
- Better ventilation – The public has become far more health-conscious than they were and now wants retailers to play a role in protecting them. For example, nearly 80% of respondents said they felt better eating and drinking in restaurants and bars that had good ventilation.
The pandemic naturally accelerated the pace of change and opened the eyes of many retailers to new possibilities. So, naturally, many have decided to continue to offer the extras they did during the pandemic. But what many did not anticipate was the drastic change in consumer expectations. Now that people can see what is possible and have practical experience of shopping online, they expect far more from in-store retailers.
How retailers are using technology to accelerate that change
In many cases, using technology is the only way retailers are going to be able to meet the new expectations that consumers have. Here are a few examples of how they are doing precisely that:
- Using digital screens and kiosks to augment face-to-face customer service – Many stores are introducing customer service kiosks rather than having customers queue to speak to someone. These enable people to get answers to simple questions or return goods using QR codes and barcodes.
- Introducing digital screen ordering points to speed up the customer’s transactions. This is something that takeaway food outlets have been doing for a while. Now bars, restaurants, and some types of physical retailers are also introducing them.
- Increasingly chains are opening checkout-free stores.
- Automating shop floor tasks and replenishment processes – recruiting enough staff and retaining them is becoming increasingly difficult. As a result, many retailers are now investing in technology that enables them to automate shop floor tasks—for example, using robots to tour the aisles looking for low stock items. Then, generating pick lists to make sure the goods people want are always available. This frees up staff time to look after customers better and provide them with a more personal shopping experience.
The future for retail is still bright
Radical change like this is hard to get right. Inevitably, some retailers will make serious mistakes, and a few more are likely to go out of business because they have misread the market. Or have invested money into the wrong technology. But, overall, the majority will benefit from the fact that circumstances have pushed them to streamline their operations and provide customers with more of what they want. Those firms that do in-depth customer research and make their changes based on firm data are the ones that will benefit the most.
YouTube: 5 Technologies That Every Retailer Needs to Succeed [Digital Transformation in Retail]