Will COVID-19 spur the death of the browsing culture?

By Daniel Bailey, VP Enterprise, EMEA at Zendesk

Demand across England’s high street has surged, with consumers seen queueing from as early as 7am when retailers reopened their doors following the three-month COVID-19 lockdown. However, despite the sudden increase in footfall, many shoppers still have concerns about returning to normal, and are instead, opting for new, more digital ways of shopping.

To support customers relying on e-commerce, as well as those looking to sustain safe social distancing in the store, we must now start to think about how we implement the right technologies, to make the online and in-store experience sustainable and efficient in the longer term.

Supporting a safer shopping experience

For customers wanting to shop in store safely and with minimal face-to-face contact with retail assistants, ‘scan-and-go’ technology is becoming an increasingly popular solution. Although not revolutionary, by using our smartphones as barcode and QR code readers, it is possible to scan products as we add them to our trolley. Not only does this support consumers in finding out more information about a product but, it can also make a cashless checkout possible, reducing the risks associated with long queues.

For customers not wanting to browse in store, but still wanting the touch and feel experience before they buy, retailers could consider implementing a booking system, similar to booking a table at a restaurant. By taking the time to understand the rise of ROPO (Research Online, Purchase Offline), brands can ensure they are catering for the change in consumer buying behaviour.

The virtual experience

As the saying goes, old habits die hard, so it’s going to be tricky to erase the browsing culture altogether. As such, stores need to identify new and creative ways to deliver this service. One such way could be using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Offering the opportunity to try on clothes online or get a full 360-degree view of an item in a virtual world, could be a solution to this problem.

We’ve already seen some companies put this into practice, offering the chance to use AR through mobile phone cameras to place virtual copies of furniture in our homes. This allows us to check that it fits into a certain space, matches the design of a room, and gives us the closest possible experience to seeing the item in reality.

A single, connected view

Ultimately, for a successful ‘new normal’, it’s vital that businesses who don’t already have CRM systems connected in stores, take the time to connect their e-commerce, customer service and in-store systems together, to build a more connected picture of each customer. This doesn’t necessarily mean overhauling your POS systems – it can be as simple as arming your store assistants with your CRM’s mobile app.

To give an example, let’s think about what a future trip to the opticians might look like. With increased safety and hygiene protocol now in place, each pair of frames tried on by a customer will need sanitising, meaning it’s no longer quite as simple as picking up and trying

on any pair of glasses that take your fancy. Instead, an optician could embrace an AR functionality to support customers in ‘trying on’ a pair of glasses online. A customer could then narrow down their selection, book an appointment, and simply try on the final two pairs that they couldn’t decide between, in store. By arming the optician in store with the right information, the top two picks could be ready to try as soon as the customer arrives for their shopping appointment. Not only will this increase efficiency, but it helps the optician to prepare for a safe sale.

As more and more retailers begin to open their doors, they are going to continue to be confronted with an array of new challenges. To overcome these, deploying the right technology is going to be key for long-term success, and safety.

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