Tech at the Heart of Retail Recovery

By Josh Bunce, CEO and Founder of INURFACE Group.

Retailers, big and small, must embrace technology if as a nation of we are to recover from COVID-19 and operate despite its lasting impacts.

Six months ago, the position we are currently in nationally, and globally, would have been unimaginable. Overnight on the 26th of March our retailer’s doors were closed. Shops big and small, with the exception of a few essential suppliers, were forced to cease operations to support nationwide efforts to quell the rise of coronavirus and return our nation to health.

While bolted doors, closed shutters and darkened stores might have demonstrated the front-line impact of these closures what must also be considered is the knock-on impacts of these shops closing. The suppliers, the subcontractors, the owners of premises who all previously relied on our retail outlets being operational and open and who, because of this, also felt the immediate impacts and so are mutually invested in ensuring a return to business as quickly and safely as allowed.

Now, almost three months on, from the 15th of March, we entered the next chapter in recovery for the UKs retail economy as nonessential stores are able to open again.

An exciting turning point but also a challenging one. The rule books of retail are being ripped up as we enter a new phase and technology is proving invaluable to support the people behind the businesses.

Avenues of tech, such as thermal monitoring cameras and digital signage hand sanitiser units will become increasingly important in ensuring retailers can provide a safe environment for people  to return to but are futile if our consumers don’t know about or understand the measures being taken.

It is because of this fact that amongst it all arguably the most important application of technology in our ‘new normal’ remains in communication.

Technology to highlight activity in stores isn’t something new, it’s something we have seen more and more of in UK retail outlets as they compete with online retailers for sales and rely on visual content to draw the shoppers in.

Previously this may have been focused primarily on store deals, focus strategies and aesthetics today the shift for many will focus on how to effectively highlight actions taken to keep customers safe, the requests being made to support this effort and the justifications for both.

Use of products, such as digital  displays at entrances, can easily explain measures being taken to ensure the safety of all in store and ensure understanding and so compliance. Integrated with other technology, such as hand sanitation units or queue control systems with integrated digital displays, using easily understandable and visual displays on screens, can prevent panic as well as increase co-operation and it is here we will be able to reassure our customers, and ensure they continue to use our services.

As an industry we have one chance. We need all retailers, big and small, take management of these risks seriously and work together as an industry. The reality is the solution isn’t always going to be the same. What will work for one retailer won’t for another but what seems obvious is that for most a level of tech will be helpful and adaptable dependant on size, budget and expectation.

It is a challenge for all but one that is not beyond us and that if done right will, eventually, ensure the return of successful retail economy across the UK, maybe even stronger for the experience and able to see some positives from this incredibly difficult time.

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