On August 3, we hosted a panel discussion with Avasant Principle Shirin Alipanah, Wipro VP and Global Head Deviprasad Rambhatla, Bumble Bee Foods CIO Tony Costa, and Columbia Sportswear & Avasant Distinguished Fellow Fred Pond. The panelists had an opportunity to present their own unique points of view and insights gleaned from their real-world experiences and the stories that drove them.
The retail transformation has undeniably been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential retail like grocery, e-commerce, and home improvement became flush with the resources they needed to drive their next set of initiatives while other “non-essential” segments found that they had to fight even harder to get customer attention. The focus also shifted to health, safety, and trust. In short, the bar grew even higher for retail customers and retailers had to meet that standard without being able to charge more to do so.
The news isn’t all bad, however. COVID-19 has also become the biggest driver of innovation and change in the history of retail. Prior to the pandemic, the brick-and-mortar store was the center of most retailers’ strategie but Amazon was already putting the pressure on. Now that physical stores have bounced back, the future of retail is on everyone’s mind. Which COVID-19-induced trends are here to stay?
Is it the modernization of stores for buy online/pick-up in store, buy online/return to store, or curb-side pickup? Touchless payments, mobile and up-sale opportunities, better consumer/customer experiences with more personalization and training?
With selling space inside the store growing smaller alongside the growth of omnichannel, retailers are finding that they need to deliver more experience in the front of the store even though they are getting smaller. At the same time, customers are demanding more engagement and newer experiences such as touchless checkouts, endless aisles, AR/VR experiences, and digital tools in-store without a willingness to pay for these experiences.
At the same time, the back of the store is getting bigger as stores try to use their physical locations as fulfillment centers that can compete in an “Amazon world” and automation is becoming increasingly important. It’s crucial to note that brick-and-mortar stores have not only not gone away, but have played a key role in survival for businesses in the pandemic; even Amazon has been opening up retail outlets.
“The store of the future will be measured on efficiency and convenience and for that technology is very, very important,” according to Deviprasad. “Stores will become very relevant in a different avatar.”
An omnichannel approach
To compete in the post-COVID world, retailers need digital processes that are capable of creating the types of personalized experiences that customers are craving. To do this, they need to reimagine their supply chains to account for changing customer behaviors as well as a more agile, productive, and flexible workforce.
The only real channel that the customer understands is the channel of experience, according to Deviprasad. When stores look at experience as the only channel, their decisions become easier and more clear. For this to happen, retailers need to be flexible, react in real-time to market and consumer trends, and offer consistent brand experiences across all of their touchpoints.
Digital services such as curbside and third-party delivery implementations, data and analytics, and supply chain solutions can help companies get there and, in turn, experience leads to customer loyalty and retention.
Retail associates continue to bear the brunt of the lack of investment in core areas. Complicated systems and processes, lack of training, and outdated methods of engagement.
Associates need the tools for better outcomes in addition to new opportunities for advancement. They must now bridge the two worlds of efficiency and convenience, and need to be cross skilled and well-trained for more seamless transactions.
The damage from cyber breaches has never been higher. At the same time, consumer expectations for retailers to protect their data are just as high. Consumers expect that retailers will allow opt-in and opt-out of sharing and using their data for personalization and marketing. Retailers must acknowledge and manage these boundaries to be successful.
Customers need to feel safe and secure as much as they need a great digital experience. As in any relationship, businesses that focus on customers’ needs instead of their own gain a differentiating edge and brand loyalty.