As we finally get beyond the worst of the pandemic and into the new normal, in-store shopping and spending are on the rise. In fact, retail sales surged by a seasonally adjusted 3.8% to start the new year in January, even though inflation was on a historic rise.
Consumers are also showing a willingness to return to boutiques and malls, which will be a big benefit for specialty retailers. In recent data from Morning Consult, a leading market research firm, 70% of shoppers said they were comfortable shopping in malls, representing a new high over the past two years. And 78% said they were comfortable shopping in boutiques or local stores.
This means there are great opportunities for specialty retailers to capitalize on these trends and grow their sales by gearing up their operations for returning customers. But it will require optimizing stores for a new world where labor shortages, a shift toward online shopping, and consumer expectations for safer and more convenient shopping pose new challenges.
Here are three ways specialty retailers can adapt to this new reality and thrive as customers return in growing numbers.
- Optimize Your BOPIS, Curbside Pickup and Other Contactless Interactions.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shoppers started shopping more online and looking for safer ways to buy products, retailers had to quickly respond with curbside pickups, buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS), and delivery services.
Consumer preferences for these new shopping channels and methods aren’t going away, so stores need to be prepared with the right mobile technologies, software and systems to deliver the convenience and safety consumers expect.
As Deloitte described in its recent update on retail guidance for the post-pandemic world, “direct interaction with shoppers, once the foundation of customer service, has been replaced by virtual or contactless checkpoints” such as BOPIS and curbside pickup. “Stores have turned into mini fulfillment centers and pickup points,” and returns processing is likely to increase amid more online sales. Moreover, Deloitte has also found that many shoppers such as senior citizens are choosing BOPIS as a way to buy safely while still supporting local stores and workers.
Ultimately, stores need to make sure they have optimal systems and tools in place to handle this new hybrid of digital and in-store shopping. It might mean having a returns desk in place to scan returned items, process refunds through your point of sale, and get products back into inventory. Or it could be equipping your staff with upgraded touch mobile computers to manage curbside pickup orders, confirm correct picks from inventory, and receive alerts when customers arrive for their pickup.
Right now, it’s important to understand how your customers intend to shop at your stores moving forward, and it’s crucial to think in terms of automation, efficiency and customer convenience at every step.
- Automate Your Workflows to Do More with Less Labor.
Everyone in the retail space knows how challenging it is to find and hire workers right now, and industry analysts indicate that there is no sign of this changing.
As Deloitte has pointed out, “Retailers are now having to create workforce flexibility, tools for secure collaboration, and positioning around furloughs, all while sustaining morale and keeping employees healthy.”
It’s a big task, but it’s one that gets a lot easier if you use technology to automate as much of your operations as possible. For example, by equipping workers with some of the latest Zebra retail touch mobile computers and tablets, you can give them the tools to complete tasks faster and more efficiently with touch interactions that make managing inventory, fulfilling orders, or providing customer service as easy as tapping a button.
You can also give them mobile tools and resources to perform multiple functions such as managing inventory in the backroom, conducting merchandising and pricing on the sales floor, and collaborating with team members to manage e-commerce fulfillment or curbside pick orders as well as returns, all from the same device.
By helping your staff share and handle more responsibilities with automated efficiency, you can get more done with less time, labor, and cost, and it can free up your associates to perform other value-added services for customers.
- Create Self-Service Convenience and Efficiency for Your Customers.
One of the long-lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it forced many consumers to try self-checkouts and other self-service options for the first time, and many of them found that they actually preferred the safety and convenience of these options.
Self-service also became an increasingly important strategy for retailers who need to serve customers with less staff and with fewer direct, touch interactions.
Now that we’re entering the new normal, self-service efficiency and convenience should remain focal points, even for specialty retailers who once may have focused more on high-touch customer service.
Some specialty retailers are now using digital kiosks to provide self-checkouts, inventory and item location lookups, and even e-commerce ordering for customers, especially if shoppers are looking for items where the store doesn’t have the right color, size, or option in stock.
They are also experimenting with self-scanning technologies such as Zebra’s personal shopping devices or mobile apps that allow customers to scan items as they shop and later bypass checkouts or simply scan a barcode at a self-checkout to pay for their items and get on their way.
There are many opportunities and ways to enable self-service, and now is the best time to do it. Consumers are more open to self-service than ever before, and many of them now prefer it, so make sure to look for technologies, software and solutions that make it possible.
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