The world is in the chokehold of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are trying to stay indoors as much as possible. Digital socialization is the only form of social life existing for now. Bars, restaurants, and touristic destinations are closed and empty. All this has hugely impacted the buying preference of people worldwide, and the retail sector is witnessing a significant shift in customer behavior. Retailers are facing multiple challenges around the labor force, supply chain, cash flow, consumer demand, marketing, health, and safety.
Successfully tackling all these issues will not only resolve short-term challenges but also ensure a modernized future for the retail industry. Post COVID-19 world will be a digitally transformed era. Here is a list of technologies and transformations that the retail industry must go through not just to beat the impact of this pandemic but come out of it victoriously:
Artificial Intelligence will help customers find products faster
Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes machines smarter by teaching them via experience. It provides an opportunity for the in-store retail industry to bridge the gap between virtual and physical market. For the enhancement of customer experience and increasing sales, retailers are altering in-store environment. Tools that can help customers in finding the right product and deal easily and promptly, are being created with the help of AI. Customers will be able to enter their shopping list in the device and be prompted about the exact location of each product.
Visual Search is another similar application of AI. For visual search, shoppers use real-world images (downloaded images via internet, screenshots, or photographs) to find something similar. With AI & ML, it becomes possible to understand the context and content of these images and respond with a list of related results. It is a valuable tool for retailers, especially in home décor and fashion sector. Many retailers like ASOS, IKEA, Neiman, Marks & Spencer, etc. have already adopted this technology.
Predictive Analytics – To make smarter business decisions
Predictive analytics can uncover behavior trends by crunching customer data. It is one of the most sought-after technologies for retail digital transformation. Shifting customer preference during COVID-19 has made it even more valuable. The ability to predict customer needs over the coming months is now more important than ever to manage inventory and supply chain. With an abundance of data everywhere, it is only wise to use it to analyze the following factors:
- Customer shopping journey – Using data to draw a typical customer shopping journey can help retailers in personalizing the consumer experience at each stage of the decision-making process. It can be used to improve sales and reduce cart abandonment.
- Customer behavior – It can help retailers in creating tailored customer loyalty programs. With this analysis, retailers can create personalized offers and deals.
- Inventory reporting and purchasing patterns – This will help retailers in improving their replenishment strategies and boost customer satisfaction.
Augmented and Virtual Reality will help buyers feel and experience products before they buy
People want to try before they can buy. The contagious Coronavirus has made it difficult for people to try on things confidently. AR and VR are can help buyers experience a product before buying.
The automotive industry is applying this technology effectively and some brands have already started using it to give test drives to potential customers without actually driving the vehicle.
Loreal is another brand that has used AR & VR to allow buyers to see how a product might look and feel in real life. Shoppers would have the option to try and select apparels without touching them. This will help in maintaining hygiene and safety for all. In the near future, AR & VR are going to be as common as trial rooms in apparel stores.
IoT Devices to streamline retail operations
The retail industry can use IoT devices to automate procedures and streamline operations. Robot employees are also one of the options retailers are eyeing during COVID-19.
As per Statista, the forecast suggests that by 2030 around 50 billion of these IoT devices will be in use around the world, creating a massive web of interconnected devices.
Mobile apps to enable cashier-less stores
Mobile app utilize different digital technologies to transform the retail industry:
Cashier-less stores Digital financial transaction via e-wallets has become a norm. This can further be applied to retail stores. Shoppers can use a mobile app to make payments at the stores. It is one of the safest ways to reduce touchpoints while shopping. It instils confidence in the buyer and makes their shopping experience safer, faster, and frictionless. A lot of retail stores are already using mobile apps for maintaining social distancing.
Chatbots People are trying to minimize physical human interaction for safety reasons. With limited staff and most of the people on work from home, many retailers are offering chatbot support to their clients. A chatbot is a smart way to continue serving your customers, answering their queries, and providing the required assistance. It is an easy and preferred way to interact. Many retailers are also using it to inform shoppers about product availability, offers, and deals using chatbots.
Evolve or die. This common catchphrase captures what has become the number one rule for modern retail. Only those who survive this crisis will be able to thrive in the future. Adoption and implementation of these digital technologies can make it easier for retailers to run their day-to-day activities and make smarter business choices, not only during COVID-19 outbreak but also in the future.