The holiday season is always a magical way to close out the year. A time when retailers are enticing customers with festive in-store displays, preparing for an influx of foot traffic, and promoting the latest steals and deals.
This year, for obvious reasons, traditional priorities and preparations are a little different. While displays, sales and foot traffic are all important considerations, now retailers must think of them in terms of keeping customers at least 6 feet of one another while providing layouts and transaction options that minimize the spread of germs.
With the busiest shopping season nearly in full swing, retailers must continue to adjust to changing consumer needs all while maintaining personalization and creating a safe, convenient shopping environment. A recent September survey of over 100 retailers found that 63% believe consumers will remain cautious during the holiday season; however, 40% are still optimistic that there will be a shopping frenzy, given pent-up demand.
Companies can lean on technology as a way to prepare for this “pent-up” demand and meet customers wherever they may be in their purchasing decision — even without face-to-face interactions. A few ways tech can enable safer, more convenient, and more flexible shopping experiences include:
1. Creating touchless touchpoints
“Touchless touchpoints” almost sounds counter intuitive. However, in a world where cleanliness and sanitation are a No. 1 1 priority, finding ways to limit any type of face-to-face or hand-to-hand interaction is a must. This can start with changes to point of sale systems. Touchless transactions only require a simple tap of the card or scan of a QR code, reducing hand-to-hand cash or card contact. In fact, 35% of businesses that have changed operations in response to the pandemic have expanded the use of digital payments.
For consumer still seeking expert opinions and ways to “try before they buy,” businesses can adopt technology to implement a safe, touchless experience via video conferencing and digital concierge services. Through a video conferencing system, sales associates and customers can interact as though they are in the same room. Retailers can even enable augmented reality solutions to allow customers to visualize products in their home or clothes and makeup on their body.
2. Adding or increasing curbside pickup options
Curbside pickup is an ideal way to safely limit a consumer’s in-store experience and deliver their purchases without the extra charges or long waits that come with shipping. While curbside pickup is having a moment during the pandemic, it will remain an attractive option for many shoppers well into the future.
In fact, 67% of consumers they are likely to continue using curbside pickup post-pandemic when delivery isn’t available or fast enough. Thus 53% of retailers are expecting buy-online-pick up-in store (BOPIS) will play an increasing role in their business,
3. Embracing e-commerce capabilities and digital models
Not every brand offered an e-commerce option before this year, and some still don’t have it. But they should: Online shopping has helped some retailers survive pandemic-related drops in foot traffic. Plus, shoppers choose not to go to a physical store for reasons unrelated to health concerns — bad weather, lack of time or parking, not wanting to wrangle small children, and so on. Stores that don’t provide this convenience may lose out to those who do.
This continued transition from traditional to online stores will force retailers to adapt a more digital model all while staying safely connected to customers. To determine an optimal technology solution to meet businesses’ specific needs, retailers should consider digital partners that provide easy account access, remote management and a constant connection.
4. Maintaining a digital presence
Retailers that have had to temporarily shut some store doors or change business hours consequently left customers who wanted to get in touch reliant on an online presence. Brands quickly realized that not being available on the phone or maintaining a digital experience meant customers assumed the businesses had to completely shut down.
To adapt to these changing customer expectations, businesses must understand the value in keeping website and digital profiles — such as Google, Yelp, etc. — updated so potential consumers can have information readily available on hours of operations, social distancing requirements, and new in-store procedures. Beyond providing accurate information to keep customers up to date on the business itself, this can also lead to more sales and, ultimately, more success for a retail brand.
Even though the technology solutions that are being directly used by consumers and employees are the ones who typically receive all the credit. it’s imperative that retailers keep in mind that all front-end technology is only as successful and it’s back-end network.
Having the right internet and bandwidth solutions in place allow brands to power all online and digital efforts, as well as give them the ability to explore new in-store experiences — some that may even create a little extra magic this holiday.
Christian Nascimento is VP, product management and strategy at Comcast Business.