The world finds itself in an unprecedented situation during the Covid-19 pandemic - with one-third of the global population under partial or complete lockdown and retail stores shuttered indefinitely. As people turn to e-commerce for essential goods, websites and operations have been overwhelmed by demand and logistical challenges.
There is no doubt that retail stores will play a key role in meeting customer demand, when stores are finally allowed to reopen. Retailers should use the current "downtime" wisely to prepare for an entirely new retail environment and drastically different customer expectations.
Omni-channel customer experience strategies will be more crucial than ever before
We foresee four major trends that retailers will need to address when operations resume:
1. Lingering social distancing restrictions, as governments determine how to open up businesses while also keeping populations safe. This may result in reduced capacity allowed in stores, and new guidelines on physical distancing.
2. Inevitable budget cuts, which will force businesses to slash retail marketing budgets, reduce number of staff and scrutinize all costs.
3. "Hyper-connected" customers, who have come to rely heavily on digital screens for all aspects of life: work, socialization, entertainment and transactions. Retailers will find it essential to address digital shopping features like price comparison, detailed product descriptions, access to full catalogs, home delivery and digital payments at Point of Sale (POS) in their omni-channel customer experience strategies. Early data from Australia shows that digital payments have seen a tremendous spike as customers worry about the safety of exchanging physical cash. In Europe, governments have allowed financial service providers Mastercard and Visa to raise transaction limits on contactless payments, in order to reduce the need to physically enter credit/debit card PIN numbers.
4. "Hyper-diligent" customers will showcase two new traits: (a) Anxiety about the number of physical interactions required with objects and with people within stores. (b) Price-consciousness as they grapple with job uncertainty and income loss. The ability to demonstrate value for money and build loyalty will shape how businesses perform in coming months.
Interactive retail technologies will help retailers deliver in a post-corona world
Technologies such as self-order kiosks, touchscreen software, interactive shop windows and mobile payments will continue to rise in popularity as they help retailers to contain costs and to deliver on new customer expectations.
1. Self-service kiosks will help minimize human contact
Apart from limiting physical interaction, self-service kiosks can delight customers with detailed information about the retailer's entire catalogue of products, and additional features such as customization, checkout, scheduling of delivery and more. A recent survey in the US confirms that in-store shoppers now prefer to use self-checkout options when buying groceries. For retailers, self-service kiosks can lead to better use of physical in-store space and reduced number of staff. Kiosks can also help boost sales. According to one study, the kiosks contributed to a 30% increase in average order size for McDonald's - a trend that other quick service restaurants have noticed as well.
2. Interactive shop windows will extend store opening hours to 24/7
Retailers can choose to install interactive outdoor kiosks or touchscreens at the entrance of their stores or as interactive shop windows. These could prove popular in crowded areas as they allow anxious shoppers to browse products without entering the store, . They also give customers the option to shop virtually at odd times when crowds are at a minimum.
3. Loyalty programs will help encourage new in-store behavior and reward purchases on-site
Retailers can encourage adoption of in-store touchscreen technology through their loyalty programs, by offering customers coupons or reward points on-site. Once this new behavior is established, retailers can use digital displays to promote and track their latest content and offers.
4. Contactless mobile payments will become the new norm for brick 'n' mortar stores
The biggest benefit of interactive technologies, touchscreens and digital signage could be their ability to facilitate contactless payments, as shoppers prioritize safety and limited physical contact in the months to come.
5. Automated hand sanitizer dispensers will help reassure customers
As stores and malls reopen, self-service dispensers for automated contact-less hand sanitation will likely become a common sight, at least in the short term. These can be enhanced with interactive display technology to ensure they are automated and to educate customers about products and services in the respective store.
Time is already of essence
Customers have already made drastic changes in their behavior. Retailers should act swiftly to explore and test new retail technologies now, in order to be able to roll them out quickly after the Corona crisis.
With businesses in some countries preparing to reopen as early as April, the time to implement true omni-channel customer experiences is now.