[Covid 19 impact] Adapting Retail to Changing Times
[Covid 19 impact] Adapting Retail to Changing Times

From new opportunities for product personalization to multi-sensory shopping environments to interactive brand experiences, the face of retail is ever-evolving, keeping consumers and retailers on their toes. Now with the current COVID-19 scenario retail business is even more dynamic and aggressive in its changes than before. In response to COVID-19, retailers are developing their contingency plans quickly to build brand resilience. Some are adapting existing plans to handle this outbreak, while others are starting from scratch.

To cope up with the crisis, retailers are implementing additional measures for disinfecting in-store or physical locations owned by the company, updating/communicating company rules that ensure customer safety and health, limiting self-service and shared touch points in retail store environments and more.

The desire for retail experiences is on the rise with millennials saying 52% of their spending goes on experience-related purchases. Let us now take a look at upcoming experiences that will help retailers up their game and elevate CX in times of crisis.

Immersive Experiences (AR/VR): Immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are changing how we connect with information, experiences and each other. From virtually placing furniture in homes to trying out fashion, retailers like Sephora, Walmart, Ikea, etc. are already accelerating immersive shopping experience. Keeping the current situation in mind, brands can begin experimentation with at-home try-on and virtual product demos.

Sensory Search: It is the act of searching the internet using a picture or voice. It opens new possibilities and enables users to pick what they want with less effort. Through Visual Search in retail, customers are already one step closer to making a purchase. Voice search in retail meanwhile has been one of the most talked about technology trends. In the present scenario, customers can leverage visual search by snapping a picture of the product of their choice and place an order accordingly. Coming to voice technology, customers can use Alexa to check their risk level for COVID-19 at home. Ask, "Alexa, what do I do if I think I have COVID-19?" or "Alexa, what do I do if I think I have coronavirus?" She will ask a series of questions and provide CDC guidance given your risk level and symptoms.  Gartner says by 2021, brands that support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30%.

Chatbots: Retailers are using Chatbots to bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences. Harnessing AI-powered Chatbots, retailers will be able to provide consumers with a combined digital, personalized, and instant conversational experience. During this period of crisis, e-commerce retailers can use Chatbots to enable customers to browse and buy their groceries & essentials thereby making their online purchases seamless and engaging.

Geofencing: All thanks to accurate location-based data from mobile devices, Geofencing solutions provide a huge opportunity for retailers to improve local performance, deliver personalized customer experience and increase footfall to physical stores by segmenting and targeting customers & sending real-time, relevant promotional offers to them. This tech-set/solution can be used by retailers to attract customers once the crisis has subsided. According to Salesforce, 53% of shoppers visited a retailer after receiving a location-based message.

At present, the success of a retailer is no longer just tied to selling products and gaining direct revenue. It is about providing an experience that end customer expects and can only be fulfilled if the entire organization is unified. We think the below parameters can act as starting guiding forces for retailers to build experiences.  

Customer centricity – we must shift focus on the digital value chain and from product-centric to customer-centric. It’s not anymore about buying low, sell high and optimize everything in between. It’s about drawing effective insights from data to create true actionable objectives aimed at reaching the customer at the right time, at the right place, for the right reasons.

Convergence of boundaries – Retail needs to tie with payment institutes, engage on social media, create an active feedback culture, evolve on branding and marketing; innovate at every step. Continuous real-time integration needs to happen right here, right now.

Collaboration – Retailers need to grow together with a competitive yet healthy marketplace. For example, take e-commerce as service– retailers and platforms both stand to gain with increased and engaged customer footfall.

Co-ownership – Retailers and franchises, former providing what the customer wants with latter giving feedback and holding up brand promises. Retailers must thus build partnerships, so they can leverage the combined strength to expedite digital transformation and establish thought leadership.

Co-creation – Millennials or digitally active customers are willing to share experiences. They can co-create value propositions through feedback on products/services. Retailers need to engage customers and enhance affective customer loyalty by co-creating experiences.

Continuous learning – What’s the point in having data if we don’t know what to do with it. Retailers should rely on retail analytics in order to make smarter decisions toward higher profits, better customer satisfaction.

Continue being humane – Digital is not here to take the EQ out of shopping but it’s to enable and assist in making informed and actionable decisions. Being passive is a passé but being human will continue throughout. Let your retail analytics and reporting programs give you the numbers, but be sure to factor in the feedback and experience of your team.

Conversational – Providing conversational commerce capabilities to digital consumers can help.  Context- and situation-aware, based on the consumer’s location and requests is the need of the hour. Customers must be able to converse the whole shopping experience and not merely give commands which lack the intelligence to comprehend what to expect next.

(Inspirations- www2.deloitte.com, www.forbes.com)

New feature sets keep on evolving which means that an organization’s ability to churn them quickly is of paramount importance. To stay ahead in the industry, retailers should look at:

  • Adopting DevOps approach to software development & implement CI/CD

  • Microservices architecture for redesigning landscape

  • Integrate their ecosystems (channels included)

  • data lake and build analytics around it

  • Leverage intelligent test automation technology

  • Cloud migration in order to increase their scalability, reliability and maintainability of enterprise along with optimizing costs

The aforementioned disruptors are not distinctive factors anymore but rather prerequisites of competitiveness.

 The article has been penned down by Abhishek Mahajan- Senior Manager, Retail, Aspire Systems




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