The pandemic has changed the way that people shop – both online and in-store. Mark Steel, Director of Retail EMEA, Google Cloud, explains how retailers can keep up with the changes and what they can do to thrive in the new normal.
The global pandemic has pushed businesses to transform their daily operational functions, especially within the retail space. From rapid adoption of safety protocols in grocery stores to innovative new ecommerce experiences, retailers have stepped up during these unprecedented times. Although the circumstances are clearly quite challenging, the response from retailers has been nothing short of exceptional. One question, however, is at the forefront of many minds in retail: What will the new normal for retail look like?
While no one can predict the future, the current circumstances present a genuine opportunity for rapid innovation and developing new solutions. Retailers need to accelerate their Digital Transformation efforts while also maintaining reliable customer experiences, especially as expectations continue to grow. So, what will this involve?
Here are five things retailers can do to not only navigate the now but prepare for a future that includes new technologies, data analytics and flexible collaborations.
- Improve your IT infrastructure for better online experiences
The crisis has caused many retailers to compress multi-year technology improvement programmes into months – or even weeks. Legacy technology infrastructure has become a significant barrier during this period. The need for retailers to transform their ecommerce operations, especially, has never been more pressing. Part of this has been the huge shift towards customers relying on online shopping and home delivery. This trend shows no signs of slowing down. Retailers with seamless online experiences that meet customer expectations are seeing orders increase. Retailers that haven’t modernised their ecommerce platforms are seeing their customers move elsewhere. To meet this growing demand, many retailers are turning to the cloud to not only help them scale flexibly but also reduce the costs of any legacy IT infrastructure. The current volatile climate makes this even more important.
- Explore how technology can improve in-store experiences
Technology will also play a key role in driving changes in stores to keep both customers and colleagues safe. Customers might need to book visiting slots online, for example, or use their smartphone to scan and pay for items while they’re in the store. Retailers can even use augmented-reality-enhanced fitting rooms to reduce the time customers need to spend in stores. These and other innovations will be powered by modern cloud-based technology, which enables retailers to develop new solutions and services from idea to trial at a much faster rate.
- Drive action from data – all of it!
As customers flock to digital stores and virtual fitting rooms, differentiation will be critical. This can be achieved by using data to make decisions and deliver timely and relevant solutions. Creating personalised experiences will also continue to be a huge area of focus as retailers create what ‘shopping’ will look like, now and in the future. Those retailers that continue to invest in data capabilities are likely to be among the winners as we emerge from the current pandemic reality. Data analysis tools, such as BigQuery, are being used to upgrade legacy data warehouses and address many modern analytics challenges that retailers face when harnessing data to deliver enhanced customer service. Many retailers still rely on siloed, batched data. In today’s environment, this is no longer acceptable. Retailers need real time data to inform business decisions and personalise the shopping experience. By combining data from omnichannel experiences – in other words, a customer’s experiences in-store, on apps and on websites – retail companies can create a more connected shopping experience, both online and in the physical store. Through data analytics, the role and influence of a physical store can now be assessed fully and could change significantly as a result of this.
- Collaborate through more flexible teams
Another important recent change that will shape the future world of retail is the need for more teams to work together remotely. This means greater and more in-depth collaboration is needed. Additionally, retailers will need to build greater flexibility and capacity for change against the backdrop of a market outlook that remains uncertain. Instead of sticking with traditional retail’s fixed-function teams, some retailers are organising multi-disciplinary ‘opportunity teams’ that focus on quickly delivering a specific outcome. As the pace of change continues to increase, innovation becomes a minimum standard, especially during these challenging times. Retailers that don’t change quickly will see an eventual decline in their success.
- Get the tools to collaborate well
The advances in the new ways of working will need to be supported by the use of collaborative tools such as G Suite. Its features allow teams to work together in real time, from any location, while their in-store colleagues provide immediate feedback on products and experiences. With these existing tools, ‘digital factories’ could be spun up to address specific challenges, driven by computational power and smart analytics capabilities. Uber, Airbnb and others were all created following the last major recession in 2008. What could be developed from this new reality around autonomous delivery systems, self-disinfecting fixtures in stores or other areas of retail?
One thing is certain, retailers will continue to successfully adapt and create new experiences to engage their customers. These uncertain times have shown that it is even more important for retailers to have the right tools to help colleagues work productively and effectively, as well as harness the ideas and creativity of their teams. Without collaborative tools, progress will be much slower.
Whether it’s finding the best way to use robotics and automation, understanding large data sets or even creating new customer experiences, technology will be the key driver of some meaningful changes in the retail sector. As we look to the future, we know recovery will take some time, and will vary by retail sub-segment. While retail’s future can’t be predicted with absolute certainty, collaborative efforts and powerful tools will help retailers find a path where they can fully control what their own new normal will look like.Click below to share this article