From seamless to touchless the metamorphosis of retail (The Business Times)

COVID-19 has taken a dramatic toll on many industries, most notably retail. Up until now, the retail industry flourished by ensuring higher footfall to boost sales. Today, however, retailers need to tackle the epic challenge of working — within curbs — to manage footfall, while meeting changing consumer demands. Will we ever again look at increasing footfall as a measure to boost sales? 

Unprecedented changes in consumer behavior require better strategies to navigate the new normal. For instance, apparel retailers are witnessing higher online sales in shirts and shorts as opposed to shirts and pants in response to the needs of the “always-on-video-call” executives.

When the stores reopen, retailers might even need to contemplate a reality where there will be no trial rooms. Home furnishings and home improvement retailers will see a major shift in demand, where consumers will require the type of furniture that enables them to balance personal and professional life at home. With such radical shifts, retailers should equip themselves with the right strategies and technologies to provide what consumers seek.

You can feel without touching

Customer experience has generally been associated with in-store experiences such as leveraging attractive displays to drive impulse purchases, personalising product recommendations through in-person interactions, and allowing trials before the customer makes a purchase. These approaches have disappeared in an almost overnight turn of events, prompting retailers to embrace different strategies, such as touchless retail. Furthermore, physical stores will now turn into showrooms, providing aesthetic beauty and engagement, as opposed to being the ultimate place of purchase.

Online consumers will be able to reap the benefits of an end-to-end in-store experience through immersive technologies. The products will eventually be delivered through drones, without the customer having to make any contact in the entire path-to-purchase journey. This will turn out to be the mainstream model for retail purchases in our current context.

Happy hours — no longer restricted to bars

Contactless retail has gained footing, helping retailers sell their products in a safe manner, and enabling consumers to buy them with the least human interaction. Online retailers are seeing contactless curbside pickup to be one of the best ways to get customers to buy products at this time. Once physical stores start to reopen, there will be a sudden increase in footfall, and retailers will begin to engage with customers in specific time windows, making “retail happy hours” the new normal. Nevertheless, for the most part, we will be operating in a world that embraces the after-effects of COVID-19, imbibing cautious retailing and health protocols. Therefore, it is imperative that retailers become adept in two key models: the online business model, and the touchless operating model.

As retailers go touchless, will privacy be the same?

In the wake of COVID-19, retailers have re-invented delivery models and can no longer ignore digital technologies, such as robotics, automation and IoT, as these have evolved from being optional, to becoming a mandate. In the new model of retail, Thailand’s largest retail player, Central Pattana has fortified the retail experience by following the five tenets of extra screening, social distancing, safety tracking, extra cleaning and touchless experience, all of which predominately leverage digital technology.

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The Business Times

13 June 2020

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