How Retail should deal with the looming uncertainty

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Long before a novel virus disrupted our everyday lives and, in a way, forced us to adapt to a new way of living, there were talks about the ‘Retail apocalypse’. Over the past couple of years, store closures have happened faster than store openings, while the overall foot traffic in malls and physical shops continues to decrease. However, this decrease in the customers visiting the brick-and-mortar stores has corresponded with an increase in online sales. If we look at the numbers, the overall sales have amplified despite the store closures.  

With the COVID-19 outbreak, the closing speed has accelerated & the foot traffic has nosedived. But, this means that the ‘digital retail ecosystem in making’ will simply come to its conclusion much earlier than it was expected to. Omni-channel will no longer be an option, digital transformation will be inevitable. As people are wary of touching things or even coming in close contact with others, it is necessary that retailers step up their game according to the changing consumer behavior. As per a recent report, 58% of the people are likely to avoid public areas such as shopping malls amid the worsening outbreak. Estimates of sales volume through online grocery delivery in Beijing were reported to be two to three times as high as before the outbreak. 

Gartner research has shown that more than 80% of retailers have or plan to implement AI solutions across 5 key merchandising processes by 2021: product development and selection; planning; buying; demand forecasting; and allocation and replenishment to better deal with situations like the COVID-19 pandemic better. The analyst predicts that Retailers that do not renew their focus on utilizing their store portfolio and on providing compelling unified retail commerce consumer-facing experiences will continue to lose out. They also need to develop realistic and benefit-adding use cases for AI and ML into their business operations for core supply chain planning, forecasting, inventory and merchandising functions. 

We are presenting some retail software solutions that the industry should adopt to come out strong from this crisis and develop greater trust among the customers. These solutions focus on how retailers can eliminate or minimize the need for human-to-human contact for ending the skepticism in their buyers. 

Building an end-to-end contactless retail ecosystem

  • RFID-integrated retail inventory management systems 

By integrating the in-store products with RFID tags, the retailers can build a truly connected inventory, which would not require any physical contact. RFID-tagged products can offer real-time insights about consumer behavior, helping the retailers understand the demand levels of a product so that they can stock up the inventory accordingly. At the same time, this would also enable the retailers to eliminate such products that are least on the popularity scale among the buyers. 

Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning solutions can play a crucial role here. If a consumer visits a store and would like to check out a product’s ingredients or expiry date, they can do so by simply scanning it through an intelligent application on their phones that detects the product through the RFID tag and consequently pulls up all the relevant information that the user may like to know. 

At the checkout counters, the cashier can simply scan the products with a fixed or hand-held RFID scanner/reader to bill the customer with the right price. This way, no real touch happens between the customers and the store staff, thus, making the entire buying process comparatively risk-free. 

  • Contactless payment technology at the retail POS counter 

Contactless technology is equipped with Near-Field Communication (NFC) chips that also utilized radio frequency identification for processing a payment. With advanced wearable devices, NFC-embedded smart phones, and latest payment technologies such as Apple Pay, Apple Card, and Google Pay, payments can be processed at a retail POS counter without any card/cash exchanging hands between the cashier and the buyer. 

The contactless payment technology is also known as ‘tap-and-pay’ method, which was expected to drive almost $190billion in sales by 2022. The expected numbers and predictions regarding potential revenues are uncertain at the moment. However, given the present scenario, this technology will certainly see a boom. 

  • Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality in Retail 

There is no doubt that retailers who were offering Omni-channel shopping experience to their customers before the pandemic, will have an upper hand in the post-COVID world. By creating an Omni-channel journey, retailers can deliver a consistent experience as consumers toggle between e-commerce & brick-and-mortar shopping. When the majority of world population is staying at home, retailers who are able to deliver real-world experience to the customers through their mobile phones will gain a competitive edge in the present & future retail landscape. The data generated through AR/VR offers insights on how products are selected, used, experienced, and maintained by the customers, enabling the retailers to gain a bird’s-eye view of their customers across multiple channels. 

  • Strengthening ecommerce platforms 

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to the inevitability of digital transformation for organizations across the world. Only those who have a digital presence will be able to survive when we enter the ‘new normal’ after everything settles down. At this time, when the supply chains are disrupted & production lines halted, retailers should invest in accelerating their digital transformation journey & achieving greater digital maturity. An ecommerce platform will allow the retailers to minimize the impact of such future disruption & uphold their sales numbers even in the absence of foot traffic to their physical stores. 

  • Deliveries through drones & unmanned vehicles 

As for every other industry, vertical, and sub-vertical, digital transformation is being accelerated for autonomous technology as well. Although there were ongoing trials for self-driving cars and delivery drones, we still had a long way to go before they would become a norm. In the middle of such a global health crisis when the safety is the utmost priority, autonomous drones and unmanned vehicles can come handy in facilitating uninterrupted delivery. In fact, such unmanned vehicles can also be used to re-invigorate the supply chain. This would help in dealing with the shortage of delivery staff in a faster and efficient way. 

Assuring the resilience of a contactless retail ecosystem 

There is a heavy cloud of uncertainty looming over every industry, leaving most to prediction about when will everything resume to its prior conditions. An uncertainty can have a bearing on consumer spending patterns, and any deterioration in the outbreak can significantly disrupt consumer buying behavior. But as they say, never let a crisis go to waste. It is time for retailers to brace themselves & work towards achieving the long impending digital maturity, supported by robust quality assurance & retail software testing solutions to guarantee utmost effectiveness. 

Cigniti’s experience in Retail Testing has enabled multi-channel retailers transform their businesses through a quality-optimized, results-driven strategy, leveraging an unbiased quality engineering approach, customized retail testing frameworks & solutions, and a strong domain expertise. Our end-to-end testing processes for retail industry assist individual & large chain retailers in assuring quality across their enterprise apps & support their initiatives of enterprise re-platform/upgrade/migration/set-up of complex integration between latest CRM, OMS, WMS, Cloud, Mobile, & Web apps. With a robust IP, BlueSwan, Cigniti is enabling ‘zero-touch’ technology for global organizations. Schedule a discussion with our experts & navigate your organization out of this crisis successfully.