Forget Lazy Days: Retailers Must Move Quickly To Meet a Demanding Summer

a group of people walking down a sidewalk in front of a crowd

While much of the country — and world — has been locked down during the past year, all signs indicate that demand is not poised to resume with a whimper, but a bang, as stir-crazy vacationers make up for lost time.

AirBnB reports surging bookings, unsurprisingly focused thus far on warm weather locales, small beach towns, and areas with access to state and national parks. Retailers must be prepared for what will possibly be one of the busiest summers of their lives.

Fortunately, the ongoing digital transformation of retail businesses big and small over the last several years has prepared them by maximizing flexibility, mobility and convenience. In general, retailers’ digital transformations solutions can be divided into those improving inventory and those benefiting point-of-sale (POS).

Inventory Solutions

Curbside pickup has been one of the bright spots for brick-and-mortar retail during the pandemic. Consumers love the convenience, immediacy and contactless nature of being able to arrive at a store and have items purchased online ready for them — in many cases, within the hour. Online-only commerce still faces fulfillment lags due to delivery logistics, whereas with curbside pickup, the customers themselves can travel to the goods for almost instantaneous receipt. 

However, developing pickup services at retail businesses that weren’t custom-built for warehouse-like coordination is fraught with challenges. Customers can be discouraged from future visits if their product isn't ready for them when it should be, so workers need to move quickly and know exactly what items they need to prepare.

Businesses often rely on a third-party vendor to help them orchestrate the careful dance behind the scenes. That begins with the “pick ticket,” the ticket generated every time a customer orders online so that warehouse or retail staff can pick the item and ready it to be shipped.

“Ship from store” is the other side of the coin. When retailers ship e-commerce orders from individual retail locations instead of remote distribution centers, it can not only reduce delivery costs, but also leverage inventory and avoid markdowns. In both instances, curbside pickup and ship-from store, retailers that haven’t leveraged digital transformation to improve flexibility and logistics must be ironed out, as those problems will be exacerbated with the coming flood of new customers. It is estimated that Americans saved an incredible $1.3 trillion over the last year while stuck at home. They will be eager to spend some of that money this summer.

Point Of Sale Improvements

While inventory improvements are often unseen to the customer (unless they go wrong), POS improvements are very visible — is there anything worse than making a trip to the store only to see a long checkout line?

One very valuable development has been the new generation of mobile devices that allow employees devices to check out customers anytime, anywhere. Staff members can also answer consumer questions on the spot and stay on the sales floor with shoppers, giving them more information and attention, while simultaneously reducing the amount of time running back and forth to check a desktop computer for information.

The new generation of mobile devices are also crucial with respect to pricing flexibility. Store owners are turning to end-to-end price book management solutions that give them remote access to product information, along with the ability to easily and automatically generate updated price tags at the point of need — the store. But one of the chief considerations with any POS improvements is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance; ensuring PIC standards are met at every step of the way, from the handheld device to the printer, is paramount.

Overall, 2021 will embody the maxim “be careful what you wish for” to retailers, especially those located in vacation destinations. Demand is surely coming back, but in some instances, it might be too much, too fast for those businesses that haven’t fully embraced digital transformation with respect to their inventory and pricing solutions. Now is the time to fully maximize flexibility, mobility and convenience for customers before they return en masse to make up for lost time.

Mike Zolot is director of enterprise sales at Brother International Corporation.

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