2020 was a year that nobody saw coming, yet what proved to be a challenging year also provided many industries time to reflect. As things slowly return and restrictions are increasingly lifted, many sectors will be assessing what a post-pandemic landscape will look like. The retail industry was one of those hit the hardest with multiple lockdowns resulting in non-essential stores forced to close their doors and shift to serving customers online, leaving many unprepared for this sudden shift.
At the height of lockdown, we saw many retailers scrambling to keep up with this change. For those without an e-commerce platform, websites had to be updated overnight and for those without omnichannel or flexible fulfilment options, technologies needed to be rolled out to support these solutions.
While many retailers had been utilising an online presence in a bid to reach their customers, this was the first time retailers had to rely on their website to be their entire shop window with no personal interaction with customers. This put much pressure on retailers, and some simply couldn’t keep up with demand. It’s been reported that more than 17,000 stores closed their shutters for the last time throughout the pandemic.
As restrictions began lifting and customers returned in-store, retailers had to be mindful of policing their social distancing guidelines, ensuring a 2-metre distance was maintained while ensuring a steady flow of traffic throughout the store. This placed more emphasis on solutions such as ‘click & collect’ or ‘buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS)’, which meant that customers could purchase or reserve items online and pick them up from a physical location. This enabled retailers to limit the number of customers in-store at a single time but also meant that customers spent less time in an outlet.
Even now, we are continuing to see a shift in how retailers are serving their customers. While omnichannel offerings were once seen as a “nice to have”, many retailers recognise that they are the key to remaining operational and profitable.
For retailers to consider what a post-pandemic industry will look like and how they can better serve their customers, they first need to look at the very foundations of their businesses and analyse the data they have. The key for retail, and many other industries, to bounce back lies in having access to high-quality, complete and accurate data that can drive more critical business decisions.
What’s more, once retailers have determined they have access to quality data, then they can roll out services and solutions that they can use to meet ever-changing customer behaviours.
Quality Data to Enhance Inventory Accuracy
Inventory accuracy and management has been a pain point for retailers for several years. As we saw the increase of retailers providing omnichannel offerings, inventory management was much murkier as it wasn’t always clear where missing items were. Had they been sold online, lost in the stock room, or held up at the distribution centres?
Several retailers have been utilising radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track their products through the supply chain to address the discrepancies in inventory accuracy. By tagging items at the factory level with RFID-enabled tags, retailers can track individual products and obtain a plethora of data around product size, colour, brand, and more. Once they have access to this data, they can effectively roll out more robust omnichannel solutions as there will be no doubts about where items are placed.
Improving Customer Personalisation & Experience
Personalisation is at the very heart of retailing today. In the past, shopping was about how much a product would cost or how convenient it was to obtain. Now, the driving force behind the customer experience is how particular items will fit into consumers’ lives. However, with each customer having their unique traits, quirks and behaviours, delivering that level of personalisation aren’t possible with sufficient data that shows retailers understand who their customers are, what they value and how they live their lives.
Without adequate data, retailers would be left in the dark on who their customers are, trying to deliver customised experiences at their most basic level. However, with access to quality data, retailers can target their customers with things that will enrich their shopping experience from personalised deals and discounts, brand loyalty rewards, and even insight on recommended items based on previous purchases.
The retail sector is continuing to adjust and look at ways to bounce back to a pre-pandemic high effectively. With customer behaviours and habits continuing to change, retailers need to look at their own data to truly understand these shifts and how they resonate with their own customers. While we see an increase in omnichannel offerings and more effective personalisation, retailers need to be prepared for what might lie ahead. If there’s one thing the past year has taught us, you can never be too prepared for rapid change.