The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the retail industry with the forced closure of physical stores and the halting of consumer spending due to economic uncertainty. These have left retailers needing to adapt quickly by improving their e-commerce capabilities to ensure they can continue to serve their customers. Alongside the short term behaviours adopted by consumers during the pandemic, research suggests that the future landscape of North America’s retail industry will be shaped by the new economic reality and the consolidation of retailers which will alter the competitive landscape. So, what does this mean for the future of retail?

Continued emphasis on online & BOPIS

Retailers are likely to see a continued penetration of e-commerce. Whilst this isn’t a new concept with consumers already buying online, some brands may see a further increase in their online sales with restrictions still in place and heightened awareness of proximity to others, social distancing measures, etc.

In the US, McKinsey has found that 17 per cent of consumers are shifting away from their primary store due to e-commerce availability and hygiene considerations. Companies have seen customers shift to new omnichannel models such as buying online and picking up in-store (BOPIS) with a 28 per cent increase year on year in February 2020 compared to 18 per cent in January 2020. Furthermore, consumers are reporting that they intend to continue to use such models as BOPIS (56 per cent) and grocery delivery (45 per cent) after the pandemic. Fulfilment technologies like Foyer build a more seamless omnichannel experience between online and in store, with options like appointments and contactless payments upon arrival.

According to Forbes, many American families have been opting for online grocery shopping for the first time and this is expected to continue. For example, in mid-March, the mobile application tracking company Apptopia reported the average daily downloads for digital apps such as Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have significantly increased 218%, 160%, and 124% respectively since February.

Enhanced and personalized in-store experiences

The need to remain conscious of health and the recent improvements to online capabilities means that consumers are finding fewer reasons to visit retail stores. With the expected reduction in foot traffic, retailers need to understand their customers’ needs and define the role that physical stores have in the post-COVID retail landscape.

The retail landscape in the ‘new normal’
Determine the role of the store

According to McKinsey, in order to attract people into the store, retailers now need to provide a unique and enhanced in-store experience. Retailers must understand the needs of their customers in order to deliver an optimised in-store experience. One way to deliver this is through exclusive offerings for ‘in-store only’ and ‘in-store first’ product launches. Foyer’s online ordering module enables location-specific items to be listed for order, like custom food at a specific outlet as an enticing convenience to local customers.

Create personalized customer touchpoints

Customers already expect a personalized shopping experience. However, now more than ever, retailers should use customer data to help tailor their offerings based on customer interactions in order to create personalised experiences in-store. Technologies like Foyer can use your existing systems to bring up POS, loyalty and CRM data so your associates can engage on a personal level with customers. Automating lower value tasks (like processing a Pick & Packing request) can support associates so they can focus on delivering service only a connected store can provide.

Moving forward, retailers need to be proactive in their approach when they reopen stores by seamlessly merging them with their online experience (which is often a first key touchpoint). Whilst the future is unpredictable, it appears that the trend for online purchasing will continue and presents an opportunity for brands to reframe bricks and mortar through connected store technologies. 

The physical store isn’t dead - now is the time for retailers to revisit their store operations to be more profitable and efficient, and to take the time to figure out the needs of their customers to ensure they can provide optimal customer experiences.