There is no denying that traditional brick-and-mortar stores have faced significant changes over the last few years. A shift in consumer shopping behavior toward a preference for online experiences has only accelerated due to COVID-19, the effects of which has caused a large number of already struggling retailers to close their doors for good in recent months. As of August 2020, over 6,000 stores have closed due to bankruptcy, according to marketplace.org.
Structuring IT for long- and short-term agility is critical for retailers to keep up with dramatic market changes, serve loyal customers, and bolster brand affinity.
Let’s take a closer look at which digital solutions are enabling dynamic retailers to survive—and thrive—in this evolving business environment.
A shift to online
The ease of online shopping was accelerating at pace, even before the pandemic struck. Browsing a large variety of products on the go, along with one-click purchasing capabilities, has led to larger basket sizes and more frequent purchases. From adding to the grocery list while riding the bus to snatching up a great promotion for a designer shirt during a lunch break—retailers offer convenience by integrating digital experiences into their target customers’ everyday lifestyles.
With the challenges of shopping in physical stores this year, and the need for a bit of retail therapy, consumers have flocked to online retailers. From July to September, consumers spent $199.44 billion online with U.S. retailers, compared to $145.47 billion for the same period last year, an increase of 37.1%.
While the long-term effects of the pandemic on the retail industry are not clear yet, in the short-term, the shift to e-commerce has put an additional strain on online platforms, as consumers stay indoors and order groceries, clothes, and other goods online. For example, vegetable deliveries in China grew 600% year-over-year during the Lunar New Year in 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic there. Likewise, JD.com, China’s largest online retailer, reported a 215% increase in online grocery sales, representing 15,000 tons of food, during the first ten days of February. The impact for retailers broadly from this increased online demand falls into the categories of network capabilities, robust online channels that can support spikes in online traffic, and connected operations that can not only pivot quickly but provide bottom-line cost savings.
Adjusting to new realities
The pandemic is also requiring that retailers pivot how they think about serving their customers in-store and online. The challenge is to figure out how to maximize engagement in-store, despite additional precautionary measures, while leveraging digital tools to blend online and in-store interactions.
Shoppers value friendly and welcoming service, speed, efficiency, and convenience—but delivering on these expectations can be challenging while meeting safety standards during the pandemic. Solutions such as mobile PoS capabilities that eliminate long lines, digital displays that enable self-service, and cameras to monitor occupancy can help.
Retailers who are doing well online can take advantage of lower traffic in stores to upgrade their IT infrastructure to support such tools. Such an investment will continue to pay dividends even after full scale reopenings by creating differentiated experiences—enabling retailers to not only survive through the pandemic, but also to emerge with a competitive advantage.
As we look forward to the future of retail, it’s critical to rethink how we engage with shoppers. With the help of agile IT and the right digital solutions, retailers can enable a seamless experience for their customers and stay resilient during volatile times—supporting customers in whatever way they want to shop, may it be in-store or online.
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