As we move back towards normality, businesses may find that they cannot revert to pre-pandemic operations. COVID-19 has caused a shift in consumer behavior, much of which is likely to remain in place. The common thread behind these changes is the rapid adoption of e-commerce.
As online shopping has become commonplace, businesses have shifted their focus to online outlets. It is now a difficult decision for retail companies to make regarding how to move forward; should they priorities their online storefronts, strive to return to pre-pandemic operations, or seek a balance between the two? The answer to this question will vary from retailer to retailer.
It is evident that there are commonalities among businesses in the current crisis. Consequently, merchants should consider adopting the following three measures to ensure they emerge from the crisis in a stronger position.
Develop a Robust In-Store Omnichannel Integration
Merchants should consider why customers may wish to return to physical stores post-pandemic, when they have the option to purchase items online. Some may appreciate the in-store experience, such as being able to touch, feel and test items before buying, however this may not be a priority for all. Therefore, merchants should consider what purpose their shops will serve in the future.
Retail companies initially implemented contactless payment systems and curbside pickup during the early stages of the pandemic, providing customers with a beneficial service. However, these features have since become commonplace, and companies must offer something more in order to bring shoppers back to their stores. The solution appears to be in-store omnichannel integration, providing customers with an enhanced experience.
Merchants should integrate the digital and physical aspects of their business to ensure a seamless customer experience. The simplest example of this is offering customers the option to pick up online orders in-store, however there are many more opportunities to explore.
We should strive to enhance the digital purchasing journey by adding items of potential interest to customers, training our omnichannel staff to act as touchpoints in both our digital and physical stores, and utilizing online data to provide unique, personalized in-store shopping experiences. This could include early in-store trials of new products for loyal customers or exclusive in-store discounts.
Use Omnichannel Data to Adjust the Store Network
Developing an omnichannel strategy can not only help retailers to keep up with the changing needs and preferences of their customers, but it can also provide valuable data that can be used to inform their physical store strategy. This could include deciding whether it is beneficial to maintain a physical shop, if downsizing to a smaller site is a more suitable option, or if there is a need to build a new store to support online operations.
In the post-pandemic era, it is suggested that organizations should consider operating a limited number of traditional retail outlets. However, each business must analyze their data to determine what is most suitable for them. It may be cost-effective to maintain a single large facility in a major city, while others may benefit from having multiple niche retailers in a given locality, which could increase their overall market share.
Studying the data obtained from the omnichannel approach is the only way to plan a route forward. This data can provide insight into which shop is the preferred choice for customers to purchase products, which store has the highest customer traffic, which stores are underperforming and which areas have potential for opening new stores.
Reimagine Infrastructure and Staff
Developing a robust omnichannel approach and restructuring the physical store network will provide limited benefit to merchants. To ensure a balance between cost and the impact of changes in customer behavior, they must completely overhaul their infrastructure. Moreover, they must ensure their personnel are adequately trained for upcoming customer interactions.
Rethinking the infrastructure typically involves analyzing existing procedures to identify areas for improvement with regards to efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This can be accomplished through the implementation of automation technologies and the digitalization of processes. Self-service options, such as self-checkout and contactless returns, are excellent examples of this, while artificial intelligence algorithms can be used to track inventory levels.
Businesses will need to ensure their employees are equipped for the ‘new normal’, and that they are able to interact with it successfully. This may involve training them in new skills, creating new job roles, introducing flexible working hours and providing new incentives in order to recruit the elusive ‘omnichannel-savvy’ talent.
Accelerate the Transformation of Your Retail Store
If you are part of a retail business, the information discussed here may be of relevance to you. Contactless payments and curbside collection are now commonplace for most stores and several have introduced automated solutions. However, to provide an effective service to customers in the post-pandemic era, further restructuring is required.
It is essential that you accelerate your digital transformation to meet the requirements and expectations of modern customers, who can be unpredictable in their preferences. Therefore, you should consider all levels of the adaptation process in order to identify potential opportunities for improvement. You may want to partner with a software development company to automate your processes, utilize training services to quickly upskill your staff, or even reassess your business focus to ensure you are prepared for the future.
It is essential to take action now in order to remain competitive in the retail industry, which has seen drastic changes in the post-pandemic period. Now is the time to adapt and evolve.