The pandemic is challenging the status quo of retail with reduced footfalls, disrupted supply chains, and a distant recovery. Retailers with a physical-only presence are facing greater challenges with customers shifting online at an unprecedented rate. This article looks at the near term as well as the long-term impact of the pandemic on consumer preferences for in-store retail shopping.
The pandemic has transformed the entire shopping experience of a customer into 3 stages that need to evolve.
With fear and safety concerns still looming large on the minds of shoppers, the consideration is not just on price or quality but also centered around safety, health, and convenience. 40 percent of customers express an increasing willingness to shop online for home appliances and electronics. However, automobiles, furniture, and jewellery still value in-store experiences of physically inspecting the product and the relationships with the retailers and brands. These categories must strengthen their omnichannel capabilities with the online and offline channels complementing each other underpinned by the experience of exclusivity.
Customers are wary of travelling long distances to shop at their preferred locations. About 50 percent of customers who preferred shopping at malls and multi-brand stores indicated that they would now prefer to shop at locations closer to home. Further due to the emerging ‘planned buying’ behavior of customers, 78 percent responded that they would not enter stores that seem too crowded and 51 percent responded that they would go to an alternate store if there is a queue outside their regular store. The ‘vocal over local’ trend initiated by the government is also at an all-time high with 44 percent of customers prefer to go for local brands over international ones.
With the onset of COVID-19, there is an increasing thrust on retailers to readjust their business operations to increase preference for online and contactless purchases and decrease preference for physically visiting stores. Customers are looking for efficient shopping ways to protect themselves from the pandemic, with 40% of respondents unwilling to spend more than 15 minutes in any particular store. This would lead to the difficulty of assessing the physical attributes like size, fit, feel of the product for customers. Hence, retailers need to consider the use of recent and emerging technologies like AR/VR displays, magic mirrors, kiosks, RFID/ QR product finder, smart carts, and virtual store assistants. Adoption of these technologies will provide the dual benefit of increased sales and streamlined backend costs. 63 percent of customers are also willing to pay a premium to stores that adopt technologies that make the shopping experience more efficient and contactless.
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of contactless technologies among customers. On the one hand, 76 percent of customers want their purchases to be sanitised again after purchase and prefer to pay via UPI or digital wallets. On the other hand, 78 percent of customers would prefer to use self-checkout kiosks. To stay ahead of the competition, firstly, retailers need to assure customers that safety measures are in place, which needs to be communicated to them as well. And secondly, customers are looking for effective and efficient shopping experiences making contactless technologies a must for retailers. Therefore, retailers with the initial building blocks in place supported with a longer-term investment will be well-positioned to capitalise on this trend. The most successful example of contactless technology is the Amazon Go by Amazon. It is an entirely contactless shopping experience for grocery shoppers, using what it calls the ‘Just walk out’ technology. Leveraging a combination of AI, Deep Learning, and RFID sensors, shoppers can simply walk into an Amazon Go store, pick up required items and walk out. No cashiers, no queues. Shoppers log in through the Amazon Go app. The technology detects when products are taken or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in the virtual cart. Customers are billed on the Amazon app when they walk out of the store.
However, fraud management and maintaining discipline are challenges which retailers will need to tackle in innovative ways. Retailers can also use geo-tagging technologies to enable express delivery within reasonable distances and charges based on kilometers travelled.
Post-pandemic, there is a significant change in consumer behavior that is impacting how they evaluate purchase decisions and their expectations from the retail experience. Retailers can no longer depend on price differentiation alone to attract and retain customers. They need to be agile and transform their businesses across the customer’s purchase journey to address concerns and existing pain points.
The article is based on the latest survey by EY.
India’s retail industry is undergoing an unprecedented transformation driven by technological disruptions, evolving consumer behavior and new innovations redefining the retail experience. As Deloitte’s ‘Future of Retail’ report observes, these pivotal forces have set the stage for online retail to surge 5X over the next 7 years. With projections indicating e-commerce growing at 25 percent annually until 2030 compared to offline retail’s 10 percent, digital channels are primed to dominate India’s $1.5 trillion retail market in the years ahead.
Decoding the Underlying Market Drivers
As per the latest retail industry data, India’s Tier II and III cities have begun overshadowing metros as the next e-commerce frontier. In 2022, order volumes from Tier III cities witnessed 65 percent year-on-year growth, and Tier II cities saw 50 percent expansion. In contrast, Tier I cities clocked a modest 10 percent increase over the same period. Given this divergence, industry projections indicate Tier II and III cities will continue dramatically outpacing their Tier I counterparts in online order growth rates over the next decade.
Attractive value propositions like wider product choices, discounted offerings, convenience, and personalized engagement are driving smaller cities to warm up much faster to e-commerce adoption even within an inflationary climate. For retailers chasing the next wave of growth, the writing is clear – India’s underpenetrated towns and cities housing over 900 million people hold the key to market leadership.
Rising Data Analytics Creating Asymmetric Advantages
As consumer interactions increasingly shift online, data is creating radical differentiation between legacy retailers and digital-first brands leading tech-driven transformation-commerce majors are setting new benchmarks in leveraging analytics across areas – from inventory planning aligned to local consumption patterns to predictive demand forecasting models minimizing stock-out situations.
Delivering Relevant and Personalized Experiences
Hyper-personalization represents the new battleground as customers expect communications, recommendations, and experiences to reflect their individual preferences. Indian shoppers are willing to spend more with retailers who can effectively tap into the power of data to tailor offerings aligning with their needs and interests. Brands leveraging AI and ML to deduce insights from purchase journeys and browsing behavior hold an edge in continually customizing engagement across channels.
The Way Forward: A Roadmap for Retailers
Adopt Omnichannel Strategies Aligned with Evolving Consumption: As smaller cities drive more than 60 percent of e-commerce volumes, retailers need a presence across online and offline channels with a hyperlocal outreach to tap into growth opportunities beyond metros. Localization, vernacular interfaces, and experiential stores are key.
Build Intelligent Supply Chains Resilient to Disruptions: Invest in data integration across the value chain to obtain end-to-end visibility. Leverage analytics for demand planning, inventory optimization, and predictive maintenance. This can minimize stock-outs, and ensure faster deliveries while improving supply chain profitability.
Deliver Personalization through Customer Analytics: Capture every customer interaction and apply analytics to discern behavioral patterns. Offer contextually relevant recommendations via multiple channels. Personalize communication and marketing content based on purchase history and search trends.
The Pivot to Experience-First Retail Powered by Technology
As the Indian shopper gets more evolved and demanding, customer experience across retail journeys is emerging as the biggest differentiator for both customer acquisition and retention. Retailers unlocking the power of analytics and technology to elevate personalized engagement, and minimize friction while tailoring experiences to align with local preferences will lead to market dominance in the future. The secret sauce for success lies in using data and innovation to blend online convenience with offline experiential retail - a trend that will further accelerate as India ascends into a trillion-dollar consumer market.
Prerna Kalra, Co-founder & CEO of Daalchini Technologies
Copyright © 2009 - 2024 Franchise India Holdings Ltd