Having read almost every single report talking about what retail will look like after Covid, I feel it’s time to comment broadly on the many findings, some of which are contradictory, and therefore not always helpful for retailers trying to plan their entry into the so-called new world.
The real stand out contradiction was the one that said that nearly 60% consumers said they would not feel safe in stores, while a similar percentage in another survey said they would. While this may simply be down to how the question was phrased, a fact that is still causing consternation in the UK which is dealing with the negative effects of the badly thought through plan we call Brexit, it also shows that we will not know for some time what post-Covid retail will look like.
So far, it’s looking good. Post pandemic retail poster child, Primark currently has queues so long they would put Heathrow Immigration to shame, while most of the predictions are for a post-restrictions splurge not seen since, well ever.
Not everyone is mad about online grocery
Other contradictions are more concerning. UK consumers want more online grocery, while mainland Europeans want a lot less of it. Cultural differences aside, although these account for most for the discrepancy, again, we can’t really know how things will settle, particularly as some retailers count the cost of delivering online. Even the mighty Tesco saw a profit drop off last year as it hired 50,000 temporary staff, ramped up an online business that was already not profitable, delisted suppliers in order to maintain supply of key goods, and moved to make its stores as safe as possible.
What everyone wants to believe is that Covid accelerated a number of trends by 2-5 years and retail had better get used to operating effectively in every channel and embracing every kind of fulfilment option. I suspect that things will even out fairly soon; some retailers will even go back to the way they were before and live off the post-Covid bonus.
That would be a mistake. Consumers, already impatient, demanding and fickle, have come to expect as good a service as can be delivered online and they will not be happy if this all falls apart once they are back in store.
The consumer will decide
So, all the reports can agree on one thing, that managing the rising cost of managing a demanding consumer will necessitate more and better technology. The 15 most strategic technologies we have seen highlighted are:
- Omnichannel order management for both UK and overseas retail built on top of a single view of stock
- In-store cameras for surveillance, self-checkout monitoring and traffic analytics to optimise staffing and layouts
- Peer to peer apps that enable staff in store to sell online to remote customers
- More information at the shelf edge – electronic, graphic and interactive – for the benefit of both customers (what’s in it, how much is it, what’s the deal) and staff (what’s in/out of stock, where is the item I need to pick for an online order
- AI and machine learning to improve planning and forecasting and to remove the donkey work from human being
- AI and machine learning to enable more online shopping through smart devices
- Contactless point of sale, kiosks, in store ordering and click and collect/return processes in store triggered and managed by customers’ own devices
- Rich content on websites to make them more immersive and enable consumers to interact and collaborate. The current catalogue-only websites will work for fewer and fewer brands
- Self-service employee training and management through employees’ own devices and gamified to make it fun
- Personalisation and better CX throughout the shopping journey. This has barely begun but this is not from a shortage of solutions
- Automated queueing systems as people want to feel safe in stores
- Technology that enables stores to take on more roles – warehouses to fulfil online orders, click and collect, social events, education and hanging out
- Omnichannel promotions that show up consistently from channel to channel and able to follow the customer
- The continued rapid growth of Shopify to enable smaller retailers to act like larger retailers. Other better solutions are available but for some reason, everyone thinks Shopify is the best
- More in the cloud, more at the edge – retailers need more data compute power in the cloud that can be distributed, but will be doing more computing at the shelf, through surveillance devices and embedded in devices