How the pandemic is driving the future of retail technology


These are testing times for retail. With the coronavirus pandemic effectively shutting down high streets and shopping centers all over the world, a natural reaction from retailers might have been to ride out the storm and simply try to survive. To cut costs in order to stay liquid. 

But daily news and updates coming in from across the industry proves that actually the complete opposite is happening. Retailers from all backgrounds are increasingly turning to digital technology and omnichannel to help them continue serving and engaging with customers. 

Provide in-store service, remotely

There’s already a growing trend of retailers engaging remotely with customers on a personal, one-to-one basis, and retailers who’ve had to close their brick-and-mortar outlets appear to be accelerating that pattern. 

Rather than letting knowledgeable and experienced staff from those stores go, brands have transformed them into remote workers. Using popular platforms like WhatsApp, these employees can now work from home, engage with customers online, and help brands to maintain their previous levels of service. And that’s especially important at a time when many of their customers may be shopping online for the first time.

Wow first-time online shoppers with seamless digital experiences 

Older consumers are generally less likely to use eCommerce services. But the pandemic is forcing this demographic’s shopping habits to change. Back in February, a US survey found that 85% of consumers aged 60 or over were planning to avoid shopping in public because of COVID-19, meaning a whole generation of people are now having to learn to shop online. That represents a potential long-term boost for eCommerce retailers, if they can deliver the right experiences and keep these first-time customers coming back. 

Click-and-collect services have become more and more popular, as more retailers adopt an omnichannel approach. Lately in Sweden, some brands have been adapting click and collect to minimize physical contact and ensure safety, by delivering packages to customers’ cars. It’s not a huge change, but it’s been well-received by customers, and could prove to remain in place after the pandemic is over.  

Utilize your customer data

Another retail tech trend that’s become popular recently, and looks set to stay, is footfall data. Retailers in countries not currently in lockdown are using real-time insights to see exactly how many people are currently in their stores, and sharing this information with other customers, to let them know when it’s a safe time to visit. I’m looking forward to this becoming the norm going forward.

Collaborate with third parties

Technology is also helping retail customers who are unable to visit shops or supermarkets right now, and are relying on deliveries. But demand for groceries and essential packages is sky high in many countries. With people in Sweden often waiting up to nine days for a delivery slot, retailers here have come up with a creative solution. They’ve integrated third-party vendors like Uber into their eCommerce sites and apps, to massively scale up their delivery capabilities. It’s a great example of how technology, collaboration and innovation are helping retailers to overcome challenges created by coronavirus. 

Similarly, IKEA is using digital platforms to connect customers unable to visit its stores with its kitchen designers and advisers.  

Be where your customers want you to be 

Tech and innovation are key to retailers staying relevant during the pandemic. Brands with the agility to quickly change, scale and adapt their technology to meet the evolving needs of their customers are the ones who will flourish during this challenging time. 

With convenience increasing in importance, retailers need to ensure they have the omnichannel capacity to seamlessly engage with customers where they want to be engaged with. Use this period to try out new channels, see how digital technology can help to solve your customers’ current challenges, and find ways of delivering engaging, personalized experiences.

The COVID-19 outbreak will have a long-lasting effect on every retailer. But the pandemic is also an opportunity for retailers who lack a digital presence to get things going in that area, and to expand, transform and rethink how they operate, and how they engage with their customers. It’s not purely about new technology, it’s about ensuring retail is still relevant and needed in the very different world we’re likely to find when all this is over.