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How Covid-19 has changed the retail industry

30 Apr 2021

Customers’ expectations of retail were already high before COVID-19 rocked global markets.

The growing convenience of buying online presented a challenge to many brands relying heavily on the bricks-and-mortar experience – especially in urban centres.

Next-day and even same-day deliveries, often without extra charge, have added immediacy to the remote retail experience.

Locker, click-and-collect and real-time parcel redirection options, along with no-hassle returns, have contributed significantly too – giving consumers everything they could desire, from the comfort of their desk, sofa or commute home.

This enhanced convenience, along with secure payment options and the consumer’s right to change their mind, has given customers new confidence in their online spending.

Advanced technology has played its part, too – instantly connecting remote customers to detailed reviews, 3D product demos, video catwalks and virtual reality ‘walk-throughs’ or test drives.

Online sales values are soaring

This increased consumer confidence is reflected in the proportion of shopping happening online and in the value and type of purchases made.

During the pandemic, more customers than ever have bought major household appliances, cars, even houses – without entering a physical showroom or visiting a property.

Several innovative car dealerships now offer no-risk online purchasing, with vehicle deliveries to the home and a money-back guarantee if the customer isn’t satisfied.

The Wall Street Journal cites a California couple that spent over $1.5 million on a Florida property they had never visited, for fear of flying during the pandemic. In the UK, numerous Londoners bought up rural boltholes without first going to see them.

Blending the benefits of physical & digital retail

With all this advanced activity happening online, physical retailers have had to rethink their customer experience: this needs to add value over and above the online offering.

In many cases, this has meant bringing digital innovation into brick-and-mortar stores to give customers the best of both worlds.

We’re seeing fashion retailers using ‘connected’ mirrors in their fitting rooms, for example. Customers can try on an item of clothing in one colour, then instantly see how it would look in another hue, without having to get changed or call for assistance.

Safety in the supermarket

During the pandemic, online business boomed for supermarkets, so much so that the challenge became recruiting enough packers and drivers to fulfil home deliveries.

In the meantime, many other customers returned to physical stores for the first time in months because online delivery slots were suddenly hard to come by. A great in-person experience became one of speed, safety and minimal touch, alongside the ability to browse items customers might have forgotten about when shopping online.

Engaging customers wherever they are

As customers continue to change their preferred shopping methods during these strange times, retailers’ cross-channel customer management capabilities are being put to the test.

Can they still identify customers when they engage with different touchpoints? Can they ensure a consistent experience, accessing the same customer account data to serve up equivalent offers?

As customer habits change, it’s important to serve consumers equally well no matter how they cross paths with the company. Those companies that are most confident and well prepared for emerging trends, challenges and possibilities are already taking steps to understand what those needs are. They are seeking data-driven insights to help them meet rising customer expectations.

Through our own retail experience, we are experimenting and sharing best practice with other organisations to help push the boundaries of amazing retail experiences.

Learn how IoT can help enhance your retail experience.

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