COVID-19 has accelerated the need for and implementation of new, future-forward technologies and innovative use of physical retail stores. Shopping, inventory tracking, and delivery methods that are experiencing significant utilization today weren’t expected to be this popular for another five years. As consumers are changing the way they shop, retailers will need to shift to meet these new expectations. Here’s a look at some notable trends that are emerging as consumers change their in-store shopping behavior and the technology that retailers could implement in the future:
1. Contactless payment and shopping
While many shoppers are comfortable with entering stores, they are trying to limit the number of physical touches they make to reduce the chance of getting sick. Once considered a flashy option for digitally native shoppers, consumers across demographics are adopting contactless payment and shopping at unprecedented rates. Options like scan & go shopping, which allow customers to drive their shopping journey through their mobile devices, reduce the number of physical touchpoints in the store. And as technology and demand continue to advance, we may increasingly see voice-recognition or object recognition at checkout to reduce physical touches during the payment process. Contactless payments at the point of sale, curbside pickup, and buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) options are safe, secure and convenient options that are designed to make shoppers’ lives easier – and shoppers tend to stick with methods that make their lives easier.
2. Creative use of physical retail stores
Retailers have had to find innovative ways to redesign their stores to best serve their customers and keep them safe, and over time it’s become apparent that they have to consider much more than just masks, reduced occupancy, and wayfinding in aisles to maintain social distancing guidelines. As shopper behavior changes and foot traffic decreases, shopping methods like curbside, retail lockers and BOPIS become more popular and retailers may start optimizing their under-used physical footprints as micro-fulfilment centers, dark stores, or half-dark stores. Using half-dark stores, in which a customer places an order up front and a store associate fulfills, or dark stores, which function as small warehouses, retailers can offer products that their customers want and deliver them quickly, efficiently, and safely. Meanwhile, with micro-fulfillment centers, small highly-automated warehouses that leverage technology like AI and robotics, retailers can increase the volume and speed of distribution of products to shoppers.
3. Sharper data analysis
Shopper behaviors are changing. Instead of taking the time to wander and browse, shoppers who enter stores do so less often, are gravitating towards value items and private labels, and tend to stick to their shopping lists rather than impulse buying at pre-pandemic rates. To understand their customers better and deliver more personalized messaging and coupons, retailers should be optimizing data analysis tools, consumer mobile shopping, and mobile operations manager applications that can capture data and provide real-time cross-channel transaction status that can be used to improve store operations and give customer insights that can help deliver a more personalized shopping experience with additional in-store features, convenient checkout preferences, and relevant loyalty and promotions engagement.
4. Frictionless technology
Frictionless technology creates new opportunities for retailers that not only help with current retail safety guidelines, but also help deliver great shopping experiences for customers and streamline their operations. Using cameras and artificial intelligence for customer tracking and real-time inventory management, especially when combined with Digital commerce platforms that bring all your channels, touchpoints, and apps together, provide valuable data to retailers to improve the effectiveness and productivity of their operations and more successfully engage customers with shopping experiences that are quicker, easier, and with less during the shopping and checkout process.