How Can Retailers Adapt to New Shopping HabitsE
ven before the pandemic, new business models, same-day delivery, and omnichannel shopping were forcing retailers to rethink how they design and operate their stores. Today, that is more crucial than ever.
Many retailers paid the price of being unprepared for last year. Others managed to weather the storm. The pandemic accelerated many retail trends, changed shopping habits, and forced companies to adopt new business models. Here are some ways retailers can adapt to meet customers’ needs and remain competitive as customers return to stores.
Increase In-Store Capabilities
Retailers are investing in new technology to run their stores more safely and more efficiently. In-store tech funding doubled in Q1’21 vs. Q4’20, to $2.2B, and nearly quadrupled vs. the same period in 2020, according to CB Insights State Of Retail Tech Q1’21 report. Retailers are deploying more forms of cashierless checkout technology and using new mobile tools to manage tasks and employees. As many store workers are now expected to deal with both online and in-store orders, retailers are increasingly thinking about creating new tech tools to help workers manage their growing list of daily tasks.
Walmart, for example, recently announced that it was creating a new mobile app called Me@Walmart. The new app for U.S. store associates offers features designed to simplify daily tasks, enhance customer service, and help associates plan for life outside of work. Specific features of the Me@Walmart app include the ability for associates to view their shifts up to two weeks in advance, request changes to their schedule, and access the Ask Sam voice-activated personal assistant enabling workers to ask questions and get answers for customers.
Double Down on Digital
Customers are continuing to shop more online now than they did before the pandemic. To meet this demand and adapt to changing customer habits, brick-and-mortar stores need a strong digital presence. An eCommerce website not only provides another shopping channel for customers, but offers advantages including control over how you showcase your brand and how customers experience your products and services. The goal should be a simple and seamless eCommerce experience, from browsing to purchasing and returning products. Customers will no longer tolerate sub-par digital shopping experiences like they may have in the past.
Retailers have to make sure their sites offer integrated fulfillment services such as buy online pick up in-store and same-day delivery, and deliver a consistent, reliable digital experience across all channels. Many have been forced to overhaul and enhance their online presence to deliver seamless interactions that improve the shopping experience and help drive online sales growth. This trend is also reflected in financial investments – funding to eCommerce technology in Q1’21 jumped by 73% from the prior quarter to $11.7B. To keep up with online shoppers’ expectations, investments this year will flow to tech companies that personalize search results, enable virtual try-ons, and support livestream commerce.
Offer Flexible Fulfillment Services
One thing COVID-19 has taught us is that fulfillment operations will need to have flexibility and scalability in order to cope with the demand and changes in shopping habits. During the pandemic, many brick-and-mortar retailers implemented fulfillment capabilities like same-day delivery, buy online pickup in-store (BOPIS), and curbside pickup. As online shopping remains popular, these companies should offer and expand flexible delivery and fulfillment services. Many are adapting their retail space to make room for order fulfillment. Fulfilling orders from stores can help retailers increase fulfillment speed and efficiency.
According to a survey of U.S. online shoppers from shipping software provider ShipStation, 62% of online shoppers say they expect retailers to offer curbside pickup from now on, and 71% expect BOPIS to be permanently available. Looking ahead, companies that offer multiple delivery and fulfillment services will be better positioned to adapt to growing customer needs.
The pandemic has brought about dramatic changes and challenges for retailers, forcing them to reexamine their business models. It has also provided opportunities for innovation and growth. As companies in the retail industry look to pave a path forward, they need the ability to respond to new customer demands, adapt to real-time disruptions, and refocus their capabilities quickly. Customers expect similar experiences online and in stores, and retailers must ensure they are adapting to offer the growing shopping and fulfillment options customers now expect.
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