How Retail Technology Can Power Post-Pandemic Innovation

By Mark Thomson, EMEA Director of Retail & Hospitality Solutions at Zebra Technologies

The retail spaces that shoppers are returning to following the COVID-19 pandemic will not be the same ones they shopped in previously. Associates and consumers alike are already developing and adjusting to new shopping behaviours that minimise physical touch and closeness. This transformation period will be marked by innovation and experimentation, as retailers attempt to drive increased sales despite new limitations on capacity. As merchants of all sizes reimagine what the customer experience will look like as they begin rebuilding after the pandemic, forward-thinking retailers are turning to new technologies and devices to improve the shopping experience.

Retail’s Great Acceleration

Though many retail technologies that are poised for growth have existed for some time, current circumstances have accelerated their adoption. For example, mobile and contactless payment technology, popular in other markets but slower to penetrate some markets such as the U.S., may finally see mainstream adoption globally. And even in Europe where contactless payments has been steadily growing, The pandemic, coupled with an increase in the spend limits for contactless payments has accelerated growth. Retailers will likely invest in checkout and payment solutions that place more control in the hands of individual shoppers, such as self-scanning mobile devices. This technology removes one more physical touchpoint between the customer and store associate, while also hastening the checkout experience and aiding line busting.

New Responsibilities

The role of store staff has become even more important in physical stores. Armed with enterprise-class mobile devices, managers and associates will be better able to ensure store cleanliness. Standardised disinfection will become a regular process even after the pandemic is over as more stores focus on health and safety measures. In addition to mobile devices other technologies, such as UV lights, will likely increase in popularity to help clean stores and reduce the spread of bacteria. The increased focus on store cleanliness will also ensure stores are making customers more comfortable when shopping with them.

Rethinking Store Design in the Age of Social Distancing

Physically, stores will have to account for social distancing by expanding open space, minimising queues and limiting touchpoints. Consumers will behave differently as shopping, once a leisure activity, now requires preparation and planning. As customers do more mission-shopping, mobile customer service tools will become much more powerful and influence retailers’ interactive experiences. Flexible, modular designs will allow retailers to adjust in the face of unanticipated future needs. Moveable self-service kiosks, for instance, provide an efficient solution for checkout that can evolve along with standards for social distancing.

Driving Efficiency with Omnichannel Inventory Management

Many retailers are experiencing a large uptick in e-commerce sales as a result of COVID-19, creating a greater need for improved inventory management. Delivering on convenience and safety via efficient collection, curbside pickup or delivery fulfillment improves the shopping experience and customer loyalty – giving retailers a leg up on the competition. Ensuring that experience gets the customers what they need without substitutions or delays requires precise inventory management. Accordingly, retailers in nearly every sector can benefit from applying prescriptive analytics to understand demand, keep shelves stocked and avoid sudden supply chain issues. Additionally, sensing and automation solutions can provide better real-time data for this analysis as well as reduce labour costs associated with maintaining accurate inventory levels.

Looking Forward Toward a New Shopping Experience

Even beyond the needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers have recognized the necessity for flexibility when it comes to future-proofing their businesses. There is no telling which consumer behaviours are here to stay and which are simply in response to the global pandemic. Instead, individual retailers will be able to identify their own unique opportunities to evolve in a way that best suits their businesses. Though the future of retail may not look like what we pictured at the outset of the year, retailers can leverage technology to create new shopping experiences and better prepare for future challenges.

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