Convenience has been the driving force behind many of the recent advances in retail. From offering a wider range of products and services to adjusting the offering to fit shoppers’ demands. The rise of ecommerce is no different. Websites are open 24 hours a day and shoppers can browse when and where it suits them with various mobile payment alternatives. Advances in logistics have made same-day delivery and international shipping widely available. Shopping behavior has changed over the last few months, which has hastened the need for digitalized solutions and adaptions.
A fundamental change in behavior
Although online shopping has been steadily rising, recent events have led to an upsurge in ecommerce. Consumers have turned to online shopping for their supplies, as they want a convenient yet contactless way to order their items and pick them up or get them delivered. This most often frictionless experience has set the expectation for the future of the retail industry. Consumers that were hesitant to online shopping before have been forced or prompted to shop differently, often online for the first time. And if the experience was positive they are most likely to continue with their new way of convenient shopping.
As lockdown measures gradually ease, shoppers return to stores, as opposed to shopping exclusively online. However, concerns around hygiene and maintaining physical distance will remain. Shoppers prefer to shop in stores with ‘touchless or robust self-checkout’ options. In fact, they now tend to use more self-checkouts compared with before the pandemic. In addition, new shopping methods like BOPIS (buy online pick up in store) and BOSS (buy online and ship to store) have increased in popularity, as these reduce the potential for contact. Consumer behaviors that have been established during the pandemic will most likely sustain and expectations of convenient contactless options will continue to grow.
Retailers adapting to new circumstances
The reopened retailers are faced with challenges of having to keep up with new health and safety guidelines – such as deep cleaning, limited in-store customer numbers, plexiglass protection at tills and the 1,5 meter distancing rule. But they also need to cater to the shift in consumer behavior, that requires to examine the bottlenecks in the customer journey and viewing the online and in-store experience through a single lens. Asking questions such as ‘where is the customer spending the most time?’ and ‘what factors contribute to the friction at this stage?’ will help direct and inform the areas of focus. Here technology can help addressing these pain points and enable smoother processes.
For example, in a traditional store, customers typically wait in line to purchase items. Long waiting times is a common complaint, and could lead to shoppers leaving the store without purchasing anything. A smarter approach could be to use surveillance technology to count the number of shoppers in the queue and alert staff when a threshold is reached. An action to open more tills could then be taken to ensure that waiting times are reduced. Self-checkout tills offer an alternative as they ensure that transactions can be completed regardless of the number of staff on duty. They also help to minimize personal contact, which may alleviate concerns around hygiene.
Keeping the human interaction
Although a truly frictionless experience would satisfy the needs around convenience, humans are social creatures at heart. Lockdown has taken its toll on the population and for sure some interaction may be welcome. This is where the in-store experience has an advantage over online transactions. The ability to ask a member of staff for assistance or recommendations in real time may be more valuable than being able to complete a purchase in record time. There is an opportunity for retailers to ensure that staff is located in the store where they are most needed, people counting technology and video analytics help to get this right. Achieving the balance between ultimate convenience and giving the customer what they need during a difficult time will be critical.
A frictionless future
The post-pandemic landscape offers retailers an opportunity to directly align with new customer behaviors. Frictionless retail addresses the areas where customers are concerned and allows them to have an enjoyable experience both online and offline. Implementing these processes also allows retailers to be agile and prepared to withstand future shifts, ultimately strengthening their position during challenging times.
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John Van Hoorebeke
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