The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on the retail industry. There have been mass closings due to social distancing measures, a heavy loss of business, and many people have been left without work.
Now is the time to think through the future of the retail industry, and the role that technology will play in helping the industry adapt to the post-COVID world.
Even after the pandemic ends, life will likely not return to the “normal” that we knew pre-virus but rather will adjust to find a new equilibrium. Although the goal used to be to try to get people into your store and keep them there, in the post-COVID world, the goal will not be to get people in and out as quickly as possible.
This will likely involve a transition of retailers closing many stores besides their flagship stores, and shifting to manage a stronger online presence to make up for the lack of in-person shoppers in light of fears and concerns about asymptomatic carriers and residual risk of the virus spreading. A focus on a more socialized distribution model and an acceleration towards an omnichannel approach that blends retail and e-commerce can help create a faster and safer business model that can deal with the new challenges of the COVID age.
During this transition, it will become vital to keep consumers engaged on social media. Social media is a great way to keep consumers in the know about transitions and changes being made to keep up with shifting shopping habits in the world of COVID-19.
Merchants must be actively engaged in overt acts to install confidence in both consumers and employees with transparent acts of cleanliness and other changes to alleviate health-related concerns. Using social media platforms to communicate these changes allows your consumer-base to know that they are still the priority, and it keeps them informed about how to continue to engage in your business.
Technology and Retail
Technology will play an important role in changing the entire retail shopping experience. An omnichannel approach that combines kiosk, QR code and online ordering technology on the ordering end and highlights the use of the locker system from a distribution perspective will play a key role in making shoppers feel safe and helping them abide by social distancing guidelines.
First, it is vital that stores clearly establish a sense that it is safe for customers to re-enter stores as business starts to open up again all over the country. Contactless temperature-checking kiosks can help provide peace of mind for both customer and employee by ensuring that all those who enter the store are temperature-free and safe to share space with while shopping.
Moreover, allowing shoppers to browse the catalog on a kiosk and make purchases at that same kiosk will eliminate unnecessary interactions between customer and cashier, and will also eliminate the spread of more germs that inevitably happen as people look through a given store.
Similarly, QR code technology can be used so that shoppers can scan a code with their phones, open up the catalog, and browse and shop at their own convenience. Then they can pay using any number of mobile payment options or through debit or credit payments. Kiosks can also be equipped with cash recyclers, which allows stores to eliminate the need for a cashier and the unnecessary exchange and handling of cash, which is notoriously unclean. Thus, more workers will be available to cater to more specific customer needs and to assist those browsing through the kiosks.
Once orders have been placed and processed, either online or through one of the in-person ordering options, distribution can begin. While new-age retail stores might only carry limited options in-store for customers to try on for size and fit, customers will be able to order from a multitude of choices, which will then be shipped or delivered from the nearest warehouse for pick-up or direct delivery.
Utilizing technology such as this will undoubtedly change the retail industry, but it will do so in a way that still maintains some semblance of immediacy of shopping, and in fact has the potential to improve that shopping experience as retail workers now have a greater capacity to focus on the customer service end of retail.
Sam Zietz is the founder and CEO of the financial technology company TouchSuite and its affiliated companies, including GRUBBRR. In 2015, Sam was a recipient of the prestigious EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Florida; he has served on the judges' panel for the annual program since 2018. Headquartered in Boca Raton Florida, GRUBBRR is a technology company that delivers ordering solutions for small to large companies across different verticals including QSR restaurants, fast-casual restaurants, cafes, bars, food trucks, coffee shops, bakeries, stadiums, movie theatres, casinos, micro markets, retailers and golf courses.