The Future of Retail

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

From the growth of online shopping to self-service to evolving consumer needs, most retailers know the importance of being agile, flexible, and adaptable in an industry where the sands are constantly shifting. The current pandemic situation is reshaping the retail sector in a way never seen before.

For retailers and grocers, technology will be the glue that holds together this brave new world, helping them manage the challenges they are now facing. What exactly can retailers do to ensure they survive and thrive in the rebuilding phase?

The rebuilding phase

When planning for the future, much has been made of the need to adapt to ‘the new normal’. For retailers, that means establishing a new way of catering to their customers’ evolving needs.

Customers now require an entirely different kind of experience – gone are the days of perusing shelves for items, replaced with a shopping experience designed around minimised contact between workers and customers, and ensuring items can be found, bought, and taken away with ruthless efficiency.

Retailers are also focusing more closely on contactless payment. Limits have been increased so that people can spend more while reducing contact, and it’s reasonable to expect that one day, customers will soon be able to pay on a self-scanning device using their contactless payment without ever going through a physical checkout point.

Personal Shopping Solutions (PSS) and smart mobile technologies will also come into play much sooner to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Retailers will use the technology to reduce the amount of time customers spend in stores whilst actively monitoring social distancing and in some cases, utilising temperature check scanners to ensure a safe environment for workers.

A new way of managing inventory

Accurate inventory visibility is a necessity for all types of retailers if they are to ensure customers have access to the goods they need, when they need them. Given the increase in online shopping, retailers must be able to meet demand for online orders using stock from both warehouses and stores that may be closer to the customer.

While there was already a growing reliance on prescriptive analytics from forward-looking retailers, this is now set to play an even greater part in the future of the industry, with insight into inventory and point of sale data, as well as historic fluctuation, enabling retailers to monitor and actively manage what is still in store and available for customers.

More use cases are appearing where retailers are embracing this analytics-driven approach to inventory management, with RFID adopted as the main technology to support this. A unified inventory vision has been a long-term goal for many retailers, but this must be a priority for businesses to thrive in the future.

Everything from contactless payments to self-service lockers and “curbside commerce” will help retailers and customers adapt to the future. While change can be scary, it can also represent an incredible opportunity to evolve and deliver what customers need in a way that helps promote safety, responsibility, and hope for the future.

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