During a time when external circumstances have disrupted operations and forced many retailers to temporarily close their doors, the industry has had to re-imagine stores and make some difficult decisions. For most stores this now means enforcing social distancing rules, rethinking traffic patterns, and enabling self-checkout and contactless payment options.
Retailers have also begun leveraging customer traffic solutions in their aisles to monitor distance and digitize activities like customer metering, and many have simply chosen to install barriers in between cashiers and customers as an additional safety measure.
As retailers reopen, corporate leadership will need to consider changes to their operations and workflows in order to keep store associates and shoppers safe. This could include new ways of managing inventory and optimizing supply chains to increase efficiencies and keep pace with online ordering. Alternative shopping options, such as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside delivery, have become consumers’ preferred shopping methods in recent months.
Minimizing physical touchpoints and increasing operational efficiencies will be just the start of the changes to come as retailers adapt to the needs of their front-line workers and shoppers. Improving worker collaboration and communications capabilities will also be prioritized as workflows adapt to social distancing guidelines.
Increasing online inventories and customer support will be a necessity as the industry begins to rebuild after the pandemic. Retailers without an online presence will need to create one and scale it quickly if they want to succeed.
For an industry that has gradually pursued technology adoption, there’s no doubt we will continue to see an increase in the utilization of innovative customer-facing solutions as stores adjust to the way consumers want to shop. Technologies such as temperature monitoring solutions for both associates and customers, as well as ultraviolet (UV) cleaning solutions, will be extremely popular in the year to come.
Other solutions that retailers should take a closer look at to see if it is right for their business include last-mile delivery automation, optimized order picking, contactless payment, frictionless checkout, dark store order picking and micro-fulfillment.
Dark stores and micro-fulfillment, in particular, hold potential for grocery retailers whose previous sales resulted largely from in-store purchases, but as of a result of the pandemic have had to pivot to an almost entirely online presence. In the short term, dark stores offer pickers the ability to fulfill orders safely and efficiently and can process order requests from multiple grocery stores. Micro-fulfillment not only offers the benefit of safe and efficient picking, but it also leaves the store open for visits as well.
We have learned there is a more than passing appreciation for ecommerce, and the various fulfillment options are here to stay. The amount of in-store traffic also is anticipated to shrink more rapidly in the near-term, and retailers will learn to adjust and optimize labor.
Although retailers will shift their strategies and incorporate new offerings, at the end of the day, those who prioritize convenience and the customer experience will be the ones that earn the greatest loyalty.