The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the orders of governments across the world have been a heavy punch in the gut for retailers across all industries.
As the pandemic has dragged, the temporary halts have turned into permanent closures. Whether it’s a coffee shop, a bar, or a local lifestyle brand, everyone is affected. Shopping journeys look different now that consumers have become accustomed to the online business models. The digital transformation is affecting the relationships of shoppers with brands and retailers.
Innovative ways to operate were already prototyped on a smaller scale before the wave of Coronavirus. Hence, for some businesses, adopting an online business model was tolerable.
Physical Store is Still the Stage
Many makeshift efforts are in place to practice social distancing, limiting, and crowds. Tapes on floors, written signs, and Plexiglas shields are in place. These methods are inexpensive but they have long a way in reducing the fear and psychological state of customers who walk in stores to buy grocery or even fashion staples like khaki pants.
Since this wasn’t enough, stores have adopted contactless shopping. Even yoga studios and therapists are now using digital reservation systems so that their customers don’t have to wait in long lines even if a safe distance is maintained. This is making the experience easier. The trend of online shopping isn’t likely to change even after the COVID is long gone. The retailers who are delivering true multichannel experiences will continue to differentiate themselves against their competitors.
Traditional physical retailers will have to ensure that the eCommerce services they offer are strong. Alongside that, they must justify their physical location by offering added value. Louis, Vuitton, the luxury fashion brand is one example. It was slow when it comes to selling its products online. Why? Because part of the luxury of their product was the in-store luxury experience, which can’t be offered online. So in case, you were worried that physical stores will disappear, that won’t happen.
How are Retailers Meeting Customer Expectations?
It’s evident that online and offline sales experience might not always be mutually exclusive. Despite the rapid online transition, customers still want to feel the product in-store. They might return home to make the purchase online. There will always be a recreational shopper who feels the real joy is going to the store physically. For such shoppers, retailers have decided to take an innovative approach to respond to the needs of customers. Let’s see what the future of shopping looks like:
Mobile Self-Checkout Technology
Social distancing has posed checkout challenges which include physical contact while exchanging cash or even using credit cards. To minimize that, retailers are implementing mobile self-checkout technology. Contactless technology like this is the key to make shoppers feel safer in stores.
Open and Outdoor Shopping Spaces
As mentioned earlier, retail stores will still have a role of play. The stores that deliver the best retail experience ensuring customers are equipped with the best safety protocols to thrive in the pandemic world will be the leaders.
No doubt, customers feel the safest shopping in an open-air or an outdoor shopping mall. They don’t want to be in cramped spaces and they shouldn’t be. No wonder retailers have started expanding to outdoor retail spaces. Some expansions are a work in progress. Not every retailer has the means to shift their store to outdoor spaces. Therefore, to address the social distancing concerns, they are planning to roll out the following measures:
- Virtual queuing system
- Buy online and pickup in-store or curbside pickup
- Occupancy traffic and flow monitoring technology
Acceleration of Future Retail Strategies
Retailers are expanding their eCommerce presence and improving the online shopping experience to maximize their sales. The strategies they wanted to adopt somewhere in the future (BOPIS, curbside pickup, click and collect, etc.) are now becoming must-have services. All consumers expect them now whether they are buying medicine, groceries, or a kitchen appliance.
Marketing and Customer Engagement is Changing Too
Social media continues to remain the major driver in the customer’s journey and online sales for a business. Hashtags and meme culture have taken over the traditional advertising methods. But some old marketing tactics still work. You just have to find the balance. Now, creative social commerce via platforms like Instagram and TikTok have fueled online shopping as well. Social shopping will pick steam to this date as well.
Love them or hate them, every retail brand needs to work with an influencer now. However, the influencers chosen must align with the values and beliefs of the brand. Customers seek authenticity. You can’t fool them now. Only those influencer marketing campaigns will have an impact that authentically aligns with your brand.
The future of retail shopping stores will be driven by technologies to ensure a safe shopping experience. In times like these, retailers (whether they sell pleated khakis, electronics, food, etc.) must have a close eye on their customers, understand the changes in their behavior, and offer personalization. Retailers have to use the right metrics to get customer insight and proactively respond to customer needs to stay ahead of their competition.