5 Retail Responses to COVID-19 That Are Here to Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruption for the retail industry. Work from home directives drove commuters out of city centers, anxious older demographics stayed at home and embraced digital channels for the first time, and items traditionally purchased solely in store were delivered contactlessly to doorsteps worldwide.

Retailers were forced to adapt at pace to changing buying behaviors and trading restrictions, resulting in an unprecedented acceleration of e-commerce as businesses pivoted rapidly to new operating models in order to survive and even thrive.

But the post-pandemic era may yet see a ‘better normal’ for retail as years of digital change has been crunched into a short time period. In a recent webinar, Scandit CTO and co-founder Christian Floerkemeier outlined the five trends he believes represent long term shifts:

1. Strong online channel share will hold

The most significant retail trend during the COVID crisis was the enormous shift towards online shopping amongst all demographics. According to Accenture, not only are people buying differently, they are living differently, and in many ways, thinking differently.

Retailers responded to this surge in demand and the closure of stores by launching or accelerating new initiatives including BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup in Store), ROPIS (Reserve Online Pickup in Store), curbside pickup and ship-from-store home delivery models.

Scaling up order fulfilment capabilities and inventory management quickly, cost effectively and smoothly was a huge challenge, with many retailers repurposing physical stores as fulfilment centers to add greater efficiency to the supply chain and get orders to customers more quickly.

However, new in-store picking processes come at a cost, putting pressure on margins. To capitalize on growth in these new channels without disruption, existing technology can be utilized, like smartphone scanning, to simplify and streamline routing and processes, maximizing cost efficiencies.

Faced with a sudden growth in demand for curbside pickup, one large US grocer did just that. By leveraging COPE smartphones and scanning enabled apps, they achieved up to five times faster operations, which allowed them to handle double the volume of orders. With more shoppers now sold on the convenience of home delivery for household essentials, this highly efficient operation will help the grocer stand apart from the competition in the future.

2. Single device strategies become the norm

The changes in customer buying behaviors throughout the pandemic led to shifting roles for retail employees, as store associates became pickers and warehouse operatives to support new sales channels. Greater flexibility and the agility to shift employees focus with changing situations has become critical.

In this altered workforce model, staff need seamless access to different store workflows through a single device, so they can search and find products, retrieve real time inventory information or identify and sort orders in seconds.

A large European grocer reported pre-pandemic how a change in strategy from shared hardware scanners to COPE (company owned, personally enabled) smart devices for everyone halved employee step counts by delivering the right tools and information instantly. No need to traipse to the backroom, no need to switch devices or carry multiple ones.

Switching between shared devices is slow, inefficient and costly, with a high TCO (total cost of ownership). Hygiene is also a major factor while covid remains with us. Providing staff with all the tools they need to complete any task boosts efficiency and empowers them to add value across the entire retail operation – whether selling, clienteling or assisting with fulfilment. It also boosts staff satisfaction.

3. Continued contactless commerce

As the pandemic recedes, 73% of US consumers remain nervous about returning to activities outside the home, leaving retailers with the challenge of enticing them back to brick-and-mortar stores.

To help convince them it’s safe to visit, shoppers’ concerns must be addressed, including the fear of touching COVID-contaminated surfaces, and a desire to minimize the amount of time spent in store.

Contactless commerce and cashless transactions via self-service checkouts, web apps, QR codes and pay-and-go technology increased in popularity during the crisis to protect both staff and customers, and this trend is likely to continue.

4. Peaks in demand will continue

The unprecedented surge in demand for online shopping was a huge challenge for retailers. Businesses needed to retool and restaff quickly, and many found that utilizing BYOD or COPE smartphones gave them the speed and flexibility they needed to scale operations to fulfil their increased online orders. Deploying scanning-enabled smartphones is an accessible, rapid solution for equipping staff with the tools they need to pick and ship orders.

Shipt, a US-based grocery delivery company, used a BYOD strategy combined with a Scandit-powered shopper app to onboard 40,000 employees in just 8 weeks. Minimal training was required due to the familiarity of the equipment and interface, and the low cost solution allowed them to handle triple their usual order numbers.

The pandemic has taught retailers to plan for the unexpected. The crisis is not yet over, and further peaks in demand are likely. Technology can keep retailers agile, so they can adapt quickly to future changes.

5. Customers expect the digital experience in store

The digital shopping experience has changed customer preferences and expectations. Along with easy access and convenience, consumers making online purchases are supported by a wealth of product information, reviews and recommendations.

To provide a truly omnichannel experience moving forward, retailers can bring the online experience to the high street by providing this same information for in-store visitors.

A mobile shopping app layered with augmented reality (AR) can bridge the gap between virtual and physical stores, allowing shoppers to scan a barcode for stock availability or ingredient information, and receive personalized suggestions, rewards and coupons. It’s one way to incentivize shoppers to leave their sofas and return to retail stores.

It helps improve customer engagement and increases upsell opportunities – all without requiring any staff interaction.

Self-scanning mobile apps allow customers to scan as they shop, and pay without queuing or interacting with staff. Their in-store experience is quick, smooth and minimizes touch points, boosting consumer confidence.

To learn more, check out our on-demand webinar ‘Retail Responses to COVID with Lasting Impact’.