Restricted customer traffic, labor impacts and store closures were just some of the many obstacles businesses faced as COVID-19 took hold of the world - but perhaps the most pervasive change has been the dramatic transformation of the retail space.
In Bain and Facebook’s study on the growth of the digital consumer behaviour during the COVID-19 period, 84% were first-time users of digital apps, and 90% of them were likely to continue using e-commerce apps. 100% have seen changes in customer purchasing behaviour since the start of 2020. As consumers continue transitioning into the online environment, how can businesses innovate to accommodate for the shift in their behaviour? More importantly, how can they do it in such a way that the customer experience is still safe, secure, and satisfactory?
Panelists from the U.S. and around the region joined our roundtable discussion yesterday to touch on these challenges. Below are some of their common experiences:
Opportunistic Revenue Opportunities Outside Core Business. As the world entered quarantine, most businesses experienced drastic changes in demand for their goods and services. For many others, however, what changed was not necessarily demand but rather the way in which customers obtained the goods. NTUC Fairprice panelist Patrick Wong recalled how they tapped into Singapore’s bubble tea market after standalone vendors were forced to shut down operations as per circuit breaker guidelines. “Only food court outlets were allowed to operate [in that market], so once we went into that the volumes just [flew].”
Of course, the question remains as to whether all this change will persist beyond the pandemic - or even just beyond a quarantine period. “Unfortunately, when the circuit breaker ended, people went back to the [big-brand operators],” explains Wong. “We learnt that while it’s one thing to enter a market, it’s another to build up your brand equity during your time as the sole vendor in that market.”
Implementation of new technologies. In February, JD.com’s autonomous delivery robot successfully made its first delivery of COVID-19 aid to Wuhan, China - one of the many examples of response changes required for in-store experiences. But how do you engage with consumers online when the in-person aspect of a transaction is what makes the transaction? Jodi Chime of Jardine Cycle & Carriage explained how after the start of the circuit breaker, they were forced to rethink their customer engagement strategy. “We ran Facebook Live events, we had virtual consultations, and of course, with this, we see how the consumer changes their behaviour towards engaging traditional businesses like [the automotive industry.] Because typically when you go buy a car, you’ll want to touch it and open the doors… but with this, it’s all about engaging the customer online.”
Besides augmented workers, we have also seen contactless solutions, frictionless fulfilment and even safe distancing analytics. We had a great demonstration by SAS panelist Dan Mitchell on their computer vision software that uses existing in-store cameras to detect human traffic and physical distances between shoppers. These insights could be used even further, for example, in managing cleaning of particularly high-traffic areas. By employing a variety of technologies that meet all needs and generate data, businesses will be better equipped to enhance the store experience.
Ultimately, what we have seen is a change in the consumer’s willingness to be engaged digitally and what this means for the future landscape of retail. Modern businesses need to be increasingly cognisant of this evolving ecosystem in order to maintain customer loyalty, deliver actionable insights and stay ahead of the retail race. In a way, coronavirus has not only forced us to be adaptive and innovative but also very well may have accelerated us into a more digital future, serving as an unexpected catalyst for change.