Technology and Retail Resilience: an outlook on post-COVID19 commerce

By Camilla Bonanni, Retail IoT Industry Lead EMEA at Tech Data

Before the pandemic crisis struck, the brick and mortar retail world had been experiencing a pretty linear and promising digital transformation course: the physical store was regaining its competitive edge versus the ecommerce realm, fueled by ever more widespread adoption of new technologies in support of customer experience. Then, a sudden and unexpected disruption: the mass international lockdowns that solely spared essential sectors like groceries and supermarkets brought a total halt to any other retail vertical and redesigned the canvas of the daily lives of in-store consumers.

At the dawn of a new normalcy, retailers, economists and consumers legitimately argue that the adoption of smart retail technologies may face a sunset, along with a decline of the high street. But the post-lockdown reality that we are just embracing gives proof to the contrary.

Technology is set to be the unexpected “antidote” to the recessive trends that the economy will face. Examples are endless and adoption rates are already witnessing traction. Computer vision using cameras or lidars will enable retailers to track social distancing and measure the volatility of footfall, during and after lockdown. Disinfection of wide-area premises will be performed and measured by UV robotics devices. Employee sanitation practices will be ensured in critical areas by automated RFID soap dispensers and accesses controls. Infrared cameras will allow early detection of potentially contagious shoppers, employees and passengers. Interactivity will be powered by an entirely new set of biometrics. Touchscreens will go touchless, thanks to the transformative power of vocal input and Natural Language Processing, and these same AI capabilities will open an unprecedented array of remote customer service possibilities. Smart mirrors will help retailers avoid congested fitting rooms. From apparel to malls and electronics, retailers will compete in a new territory: one which challenges their abilities to keep the promise of safety without abdicating on fun and engagement for their shoppers.

Beyond the store-front, AI and data will also empower retailers to remove with surgical precision any potential resource wastage that may not translate into value for the store or the customer. The volatility of demand, affected by a possible decrease in nominal purchasing power per capita, can be forecasted in advance through AI algorithms, allowing for more rational just-in-time stock management. Supply chains, as a consequence, will become ever smarter. Journeys from production to distribution will be more predictable thanks to GPS-tracking for assets and cargos, from production to distribution. Footfall fluctuation will automatically calibrate all the store’s energy controls. This level of control releases value, compensating for expected drops in revenue.

At the core of AI technology possibilities, Cloud services will thrive elastically, adjusting to augmented volume of data and more complex computations.

In a world where social proximity will be challenged, retail technology will enable us to sustain the sociality at the core of shopping. Across this entire spectrum of possibilities, partners in the channel are available to innovate with retail businesses who want to play that crucial card of resilience.

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