The coronavirus pandemic has not just upended the way we behave and interact now — it’s poised to introduce lasting changes in consumer behavior that will in turn drive lasting disruption in an already fast-changing retail industry.
With the advent of physical distancing, retailers are facing an increased urgency to deliver what were previously “nice-to-have” shopping experiences, including seamless mobile and online commerce, curbside and home delivery and, now, touchless shopping.
But how will this play out over the next few years? What behaviors will continue to change — and how will retailers use technology to adapt? We predict there will be accelerated demand for not just frictionless, touchless shopping that puts technologies like self-checkout and mobile, self-guided scanning at the forefront — but also technologies that deliver frictionless enablement of these experiences on the back end.
Self-checkouts are already becoming a top technology for retailers looking to protect consumers and employees in-store by reducing face-to-face interactions. Retailers will increasingly start evaluating the user experience and workflow of their self-checkout stations to minimize the number of times a shopper or store attendant has to touch the shared touchscreen or self-checkout payment device — in some cases eliminating the requirement to touch a shared screen entirely.
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Also, we anticipate a growing demand for touchless in-aisle shopping. Even in the future when social distancing mandates relax and life begins to return to normal, it may take some time for normal in-store shopping behaviors to resume. Technologies exist that can provide the distance and autonomy shoppers will be looking for.
Retailers will also seek technology that gives them more agility so they’ll be ready to meet new disruptions and trends in the future. Store virtualization is a technology that moves the operating system and software off individual retail edge devices, like POS or self-checkout lanes, and onto a virtualized edge server in the store.
It breaks the dependency of hardware and software — now, when a retailer wants to upgrade hardware or software, or add or turn off an experience — they don’t have to do it device by device, lane by lane, store by store.
With this technology, retailers have a modern, scalable and flexible infrastructure inside the store, without a full IT overhaul.
We’re also seeing an increased need for remote software management — being able to see and manage their store from anywhere is critical for speed and business continuity. Purpose-built store virtualization provides a control management console that lives in the cloud, giving retailers more control, visibility and remote access to manage their IT estate without being in the store.
Social distancing and shelter-at-home practices have also disrupted, and will continue to disrupt, the deployment of maintenance and support services for retailers. Stores with IoT-connected, remote monitoring and support service automation will fare better than those without as more businesses keep workers at home.
Through services like these, retailers can connect all of their devices and systems using IoT technologies. Remote monitoring capabilities identify potential issues, such as a POS terminal going offline, a shelf-scanning inventory robot needing maintenance or a software issue.
Uncertain or otherwise, the future of retail requires store operators and managers to have the most flexible store IT infrastructure so they can meet any shopping disruption or trend at the optimal speed and cost curve. It helps retailers speed time to market with new innovations and also provides ease of integration and centralization of data and overall management.