Every industry has had its share of pandemic driven impact and the retail industry is no exception. With our personal and professional lives changing as a result of nationwide lockdowns and distributed teams, there has been an equally impactful shift in customer relationships. This, coupled with greater accessibility to virtual experiences and a need to social distance, means that many are favouring online engagements over visiting someone at their office or heading into a physical store. While many businesses opening up again, retail is undergoing a myriad of changes to ensure its survival.
For example, in the UK, a report from the Centre of Retail Research predicts that changes in consumer spending, due to COVID-19, will result in the closure of 20 000 stores. “Most would agree that multiple channels to market will help a retailer spread risk and keep channels of communication open to their customers. Online shopping habits will be more entrenched post-pandemic, but we can’t discount the pent-up desire for meaningful ‘real-world’ experiences that many consumers will have in store. In this sense the new reality of retail does look to be an omnichannel one,” explains Chris Field, a retail analyst and chairman at Retail Connections.
Below are a few examples of how COVID-19 has redefined, and will continue to redefine, the modern retail industry.
E-commerce may have been a “saving grace” for many during this time, this doesn’t mean we’ll say goodbye to physical stores. But they are likely to change. Some suggest that if stores are used to fulfil online orders, retail brands can ship products from a location that is closest to the consumer instead of from a distribution centre that is far away. The buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) trend and curbside pickups eliminate the need for shipping, which, in turn, means that customers get their orders faster.
Data is a critical component of any successful omnichannel strategy. This information is the foundation of more precise inventory planning and control. When a retailer has proper visibility of all inventory, they’re equipped to respond to any problems and seamlessly make changes as store performances change. This also better positions retailers to get customers what they need, when they need it.
Rethinking contact centres
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of contact/call centres. This trend is increasingly seeing retailers move away from legacy platforms in favour of quicker and more efficient ways of communicating with consumers. More and more, social media is being used as a quick link between customers and businesses, but it is not without limitations. In a perfect omnichannel world, a customer’s interaction with a contact centre will be driven by their prior behaviour and framed by any previous calls or conversations. This information provides the call centre agent with the insights they need to understand why the customer is calling and identify the best way to help them.
Remote selling is all about offering customers a shopping experience that encourages social distancing and contactless payments. With remote selling, consumers can interact with a brand expert from the comfort of their home; giving them a more personalised experience without having to physically interact with anyone. From a payments perspective, remote selling is about enabling customers to pay in a contactless and secure way. This means offering customers digital and mobile payment methods.
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