Retail is currently undergoing a major disruption. To succeed, brands need to inspire shoppers, embrace risk, and adopt new technology. Those were some of the key takeaways from the Trax Retail Renaissance virtual roundtable held on April 15, where a panel of six distinguished retail experts discussed some of the most important trends and challenges retailers face today.
Led by CNN business reporter Richard Quest, and joined by CEO of Trax, Justin Behar, the panelists discussed how their own businesses have changed in the past year and provided tips on how best to manage those changes. Here are our top five takeaways from the event.
- Embrace risk to succeed
Although it may sound counterintuitive, risk will now have to be built into the retail business model. This is because while the retail market may have gone through a period of extreme disruption during the pandemic, panelist James McCann, CEO of Food Retail Ventures, believes that the industry will face a similarly critical period again as we move out of the pandemic.At the peak of the pandemic, food services and food retailers had to quickly redirect their channels from in-restaurant to take-out as families started eating at home. According to an Acosta Report, 55% of people are eating at home more often since the pandemic began. As the market shifts again, retailers will need to rely on good forward visibility and technology to reconstruct their supply chains adequately. Continued testing of in-store and omnichannel experiences as well as changing planograms, which began during the pandemic, will help retailers incorporate new consumer priorities such as convenience, safety, and speed into the shopping experience.
- Use technology to increase customer satisfaction
The pandemic provided a rich landscape to demonstrate how technology and innovation are being embraced by retailers for tomorrow’s stores. Retailers must stay nimble, put the customer first, and move with speed. New shopping modes offered during the pandemic must continue, such as BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store) or click-and-collect, which grew by 107% last year. A study released by Capgemini shows that 46% of shoppers are willing to shift away from wholly online retailers to those with physical stores that use automation. Shoppers are seeking more positive experiences, and automation can fuel these – be it by aiding in-store navigation, providing location-based offers, real-time data on product price and availability, and more.Technologies like AI, AR, computer vision, robotics and IoT are not only helping shoppers directly, but are also empowering operations staff to become more efficient. Retailers must therefore continue to use the latest technology to make the shopping journey easier, and keep online inventory updated to extend the experience to a variety of channels.
- Be agile to keep up with accelerating trends
If there was one cohesive message from the panelists to retailers, it was to shun complacency. Customers have been using online and offline shopping methods for the last decade, but the pandemic provided an impetus to this trend. According to Paul De Hartog, Global Sales Execution Director at Unilever, online grocery shopping grew in the first eight months of the pandemic as much as it did in the 10 years before. To keep up with this demand, brands and retailers will need to make permanent changes to their supply chain, adopt speed and agility, improve their data collection methods, and develop hybrid solutions between brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping. And they need to do this quickly, without waiting for long research studies to provide a road map, or risk losing their audience to a more agile business.
- Provide a safer, more secure shopping experience
Speed is important, but safety is equally or even more so. The pandemic has prompted retailers to offer safer, more secure shopping methods, whether in terms of contactless shopping options — such as click-and-collect and BOPIS — or payment options such as QR codes. Retailers are turning to merchant service providers that process payments for e-commerce sites. These providers use encryption between the user’s browser and the retailer’s server to ensure a secure shopping transaction. McCann predicts that BOPIS will become the dominant form of shopping. However, he added that only certain types of items will be purchased this way. For instance, consumers will choose this method for bulkier items such as toilet paper or paper towels, and will continue to shop in-store for fresh food or personal items such as clothing.
For the first time, QR codes were seen on the sides of food trucks in the US, enabling consumers to pay electronically. In fact, during the fourth quarter of 2020, PayPal and Venmo brought on 600,000 merchants and 10 million consumers who used QR codes to spend $20 billion, according to Jill Cress, Vice President of Marketing at PayPal. The technology also gave customers new abilities, such as instant approval or payment options over time.
- Be omnipresent with omnichannel shopper engagement
The panel emphasized the need for omnichannel shopper engagement because the customer journey is no longer linear — shoppers can visit a brick-and-mortar store to experience the different products, buy the product on their mobile app, and have it delivered directly to their home. An omnichannel experience allows retailers to communicate with shoppers using a seamless, personalized, and uniform message across platforms. New types of shopper engagement options are becoming attractive to retailers, such as those offered by Shopkick, a location-aware app that initially builds product awareness in-home, and then inspires consumers to watch, touch, and buy their brands in-store and rewards them for shopping.While omnichannel marketing traditionally began with brick-and-mortar stores going online, Behar commented on the reversal of this trend. This includes commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba, who are actively moving into physical stores. Regardless of where a retailer’s primary business is, their goal should be to blend the online and offline shopping experiences and provide customers with a seamless journey.
All panelists agree that the fifth industrial revolution is here, and retailers must understand this changing landscape and how best to navigate it. As technology advances, retailers and brands need to seek out direct relationships with consumers, offer contactless solutions for secure purchases, and provide the best journey for the shopper.