Retail’s Inflection Point: Data, Analytics and the ‘New Normal’


The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences across the entire business world, and the retail industry has been among the industries most disrupted. From large chains declaring bankruptcy to changes in consumer shopping preferences, retailers have been forced to quickly adapt on virtually all fronts; creating a “new normal” in retail that is driven by more e-commerce, BOPUS and other emerging technologies in the process.

And while retailers have done well to adapt on the fly to changing circumstances, as the vaccination rates continue to climb and we begin to move towards a post-COVID world, the retail industry has hit a key inflection point in determining which COVID-era norms are here to stay and which are likely to fall by the wayside. 

[See also: Evolution of How Consumers Shop]

To cope with this conundrum, retailers have been leaving no stone unturned to make sure they are investing in the right avenues, and data and analytics are proving to be key allies in not just identifying the “staying power” of offerings that debuted in the COVID-era but also optimizing organizations for the post-COVID era as well.

With that said, here are a few ways that data and analytics are playing a huge role in helping retailers manage this pivotal inflection point.

Realigning Operations

The pandemic threw a massive wrench into the operational side of retailing, with retailers having to cope with everything from supply shortages to finding alternate sources as restrictions fell into place — particularly in China. And now that vaccination rates are climbing and restrictions are being lifted worldwide, not only is production ramping back up but retailers are now having to make sense of what to do in terms of sourcing yet again.

Luckily, through data and analytics use, retailers have been able to cut out a huge amount of legwork to strike new sourcing deals and also take steps to have a more diverse supply chain so that they can defend against similar periods of mass disruption in the future.

Omnichannel is Here to Stay

As the pandemic struck, businesses were forced to think on the fly and respond to change more rapidly than ever. This included everything from providing frontline workers with the PPE they needed to stay safe to developing expanded BOPUS offerings to promote social distancing in stores.

These pressures and efforts have resulted in a quickening shift towards omnichannel and given the success and expectations of customers — who have largely embraced many of the new omnichannel opportunities now available — omnichannel isn’t going anywhere any time soon. However, to power this type of comprehensive approach, retailers need the best data and analytics tools possible, and using these tools to great effect in building better in-store experience, more tailored marketing campaigns and more.


The COVID-19 crisis has brought a realization within the retail industry that innovation across their organizations must be an ongoing effort that requires a well-rounded approach. This “innovation overhaul” will run throughout retail organizations and will include things such as responsible merchandising strategy, pricing and promotions, store-level allocations, technology-enabled planogramming, and more.

In tandem, data will become far more important than it was previously, and retailers that continue investing in foundational capabilities to harness such data — like AI/ML, cognitive BI and blockchain — will be better positioned to tackle what the future holds.  

COVID-19 has forced the retail industry to ramp up adoption of new methods and technologies. However, now is not the time for the industry to hang back and rest on its laurels. Instead, it needs to continue investing in data and analytics to continue to uncover new methods and develop better experiences for customers.

Prithwish Dev is principal, retail practice, at Fractal Analytics.

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