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  • Writer's pictureShelley Yates

Setting Up Shop: The Future of Retail

As it stands today, digital alternatives to in-person interactions and enhanced safety procedures for in-person interactions are the only ways to prevent customer frustration and lost business. A recent survey found that 84% of consumers expect brands to find ways to maximize digital interactions to keep them safe. In order to maintain business continuity and customer experience (CX), the most successful retailers have embraced remote, digital interactions with their customers and/or thoughtfully incorporated physical safety measures that enhance, not sacrifice, CX. Most consumers have adjusted by now to physical changes such as curbside pickup, mask requirements, and caps on the number of people allowed in a building at one time, but how can retailers evolve the way they conduct business to not just survive but thrive in the current environment and beyond? Home delivery and curbside pickup went from convenience to necessity seemingly overnight, as food, prescription drugs, and more can now be requested through an app and delivered or picked up in no-contact deliveries. Recent research in the UK indicated that online grocery spending increased by 94% for those over age 65 since March. Even though stores have reopened physical locations and restrictions have eased in many locations, consumers who have enjoyed months of digital-led experiences are unlikely to reverse course completely. As demand for these types of experiences will only continue to grow post-coronavirus, companies that adapt now will have a strong advantage in the future. Whether it’s a local bookstore offering curbside pickup or a major retailer making online ordering more accessible for first-time users, companies who deliver convenient, superior digital-led experiences now have the opportunity to increase revenue and grow customer relationships both now and well into the future, giving them a leg up on competitors that are slower to adapt. Of course, expanding digital-led experiences may also highlight gaps in the non-digital aspects of consumer interactions. Delays in deliveries highlight a lack of physical and technological infrastructure in place to handle a massive increase in online shopping. More home deliveries would obviously require retailers to expand and improve their delivery capabilities to ensure customer satisfaction. Whether a retailer chooses to invest in technology like delivery drones or simply shift from hiring more in-store associates to hiring more delivery associates, combatting the problem of delivery delays is crucial to maintaining positive consumer interactions. Just as preflight safety briefings instruct you to put your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else, taking care of your customers begins with taking care of your employees. Employers must provide employees with the equipment they need to be successful, whether that means secure technology for employees working remotely or PPE for employees working onsite. New technologies that measure room occupancy and perform thermal scans in non-invasive ways allow in-store employees to stay safe and prevent crowding without unnecessarily burdening customer or employee. And implementing medical-grade UV sanitizing systems can reduce the time and potential for error that can occur with manual sanitization of retail spaces, freeing employees from added labor while protecting employees and customers more efficiently. Just as 9/11 resulted in increased airport security protocols that are still in place today, it’s unlikely that technologies like these would only be useful in the short term, especially if they enable companies to conduct business more safely and efficiently. While it may seem counterintuitive, studies have also shown that increasing customer self-service capabilities can lead to increased customer satisfaction. Self-service checkouts and vending machines obviously get a customer in and out of a store more quickly and safely, but the traditional touchscreens on these devices pose their own sets of sanitization problems. AI-enabled technology like voice recognition or even checkout-free methods (such as at Amazon Go stores) are likely to grow in popularity as consumers demand easier, safer self-service options in retail spaces. Lastly, retailers must re-examine the role physical locations play in a world growing increasingly comfortable with digital, low-touch experiences. Local stores may need to shift to fulfillment only or offer an experience that truly differentiates itself from online shopping. Outdoor retail spaces may grow in popularity, as may showroom-style stores such as Ikea that bridge the gap between physical and online shopping. Retailers will need to explore creative ways of making physical barriers between cashier and customer and social distancing markers more permanent without sacrificing aesthetics and human interaction. Experienced retailers know that staying competitive hinges on the organization’s ability to adapt to changes in consumer preferences, and that is critical now more than ever. Implementing technological advances to keep, attract, and better serve your customers is the key to enabling you to reach new levels of profitability. GDT’s CX team helps optimize solutions by focusing on desired business outcomes. The retail environment has changed and requires an adoption of communication and security procedures to protect clients and customers. In short, GDT offers solutions and services to deliver more customers to your doorstep.

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