The response to COVID-19 forced booming shops to stop trading in a matter of days. Non-essential workers were sent home and the general public locked themselves away. With the return of customers, and tentative steps to reopening, retailers of all sizes and formats, have begun to see this transitional period as an opportunity to re-orientate their retail operations.

What was once deemed experiential, is now a must have, and includes things like digital signage, self serve kiosks, endless aisles, scan-and-go, tracking, mobile POS and in store analytics. The problem is that much of the current retail tech infrastructure that underpins retail operations was not built for the old operating environment, never mind the new Covide-19 related operating environment. For example, though online shopping was growing and then exploded during Covid ,most eCommerce platforms were not integrated with in store systems like POS or CRM. This integrative technology deficit is being magnified by the new normal retail trends post Covid. 

What are these new trends and what is the impact on physical retail? 

  1. Physical Distancing. Has meant that nice to have is now a must have. This means being able to provide seamless mobile and contactless commerce. But, to deliver this you need to unify fractured systems.
  2. Experiential is now practical. What was once nonessential like digital signage, self service kiosks and mobile POS are now essential from a safety perspective. But, to deliver on this you need a modular platform with multiple content, shopping and transactional capabilities - integrated into POS or eCommerce.
  3. Digital/Physical Transformation requires the costly on-premises store infrastructure to transform too. Moving to a modern cloud based API-driven architecture at minimal capex is unlikely to occur.  To deliver on this requires a cloud based content and network management system to deploy branded content, shopping and transactional experiences from one, accessible centralized platform.

 

Retailers that make the transition, and extend the capability of their core retail tech infrastructure to meet these trends, will turn the experiential into the actual. Not only will they not incur massive capex and refit costs, but will provide the digitally enhanced store that customers are seeking given changes that Covid-19 have brought on. 

 

So how do we see stores delivering on the customer experience, using digital convenience in physical settings? 

  1. From Stores to Showrooms. Instead of transactional browsing venues, stores are now intent driven, product discovery venues. Much like a car dealer showroom. This requires more of a concierge type of customer experience, assisted by digital technology, where customers can easily find features, learn about specifications, check availability and request human assistance or check out (from anywhere).
  2. BOPIS must be better. Not only to meet the demand for contactless fulfillment, but improve its execution. To deliver on this the associate and customer mobile experience is key, as devices enable the secure manageable link to back office, fulfillment, in store, online and curbside.
  3. Personalization. In store digital technology allows in store associates to have information on loyalty and other purchase behaviour so they can tailor interactions accordingly. But, to deliver on this ‘clienteling’ you need two way communication, the ability to listen and respond to customer assistance requests, push information to in store touchpoints and take over experiences from screen to screen to increase the opportunity for a sale. 
  4. Skills & Productivity. With lower footfall, and more intent from customers, automating low value tasks through digitising in store activities like seeing the range, or looking at in store availability or self serve checkouts, will allow associates to focus squarely on the sale and the up/cross sell. To deliver on these, things like appointment setting, queue management, endless aisles with product spec and information, and pay from anywhere become crucial.