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How COVID -19 has changed (and continues to change) the retail industry

To claim that the coronavirus has significantly affected the way people shop and the way retailers work would be a gross understatement. Social distancing fundamentally changed the shopping experience and the buying behavior of customers, while adapting to the new normality placed an enormous burden on brick and mortar stores.Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that the retail industry is currently facing due to the coronovirus and what opportunities might arise from these challenges.

1. The boom in e-commerce

Where just a few months ago online shopping could be considered the most convenient way to shop, the pandemic and the lockdown made it almost the only possible way to shop, especially when it comes to non-necessity retail stores. Companies that have developed their online presence on the side have got the better end of the stick, while those that underestimate the need for an alternative way of shopping will continue to struggle.Barbara Kahn, Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School believes that one thing that characterizes the difference between winners and losers is the emphasis on omni-channel retailing. “So people no longer think of retail as online/offline, but they think of it as a seamless integration between the two. Now, from a customer point of view, that’s just like making sure what you see online matches what’s in the store. But from a retailer point of view, that’s lining up all your supply chains, your logistics and all these other things.”

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2. Local is the new global

While sustainability has been a growing and popular trend for some time, the pandemic has shown how fragile global supply chains are and how easily this fragility can lead to shortages. This has further encouraged consumers to rethink their consumption habits and opt for local production as well as shopping.

3. Priorities, priorities, priorities

When consumers are confronted with the fact that their popular restaurants, bars and other indoor activities are not available to them, they increasingly decide to engage in outdoor activities, which changes their spending habits and consumption patterns. In times like these, consumers are tempted to try something new. Those retailers that are able to offer quality products win because consumers tend to stick with the first brands they select in the product categories.

4. Keep distance

The pandemic forced the interactions between customers and store personnel to be kept to a minimum. Compliance with health regulations had a significant impact on store management and increased pressure on store personnel, including shelf replenishment and changes to price labels.

5. Innovate or go under

Given their inability to serve walk-in customers, many retailers used their stores to fill online orders faster. Tech solutions such as “Pick-by-Light” enabled retailers to implement a much more efficient fulfillment system and proved how vital the shopping technology is for retailers to stay on top of their game. Kimberly Becker, senior research director with Gartner says “The retailers that were already doing it successfully are the ones that are going to recover much more quickly.”The technology has once again proven to be a reliable solution to many of the challenges retailers faced during the outbreak. Connected devices together with cloud computing solutions enable retailers to be more flexible and can provide safe and consistent interactions where human-to-human interaction is seen as a potential threat. While the duration of the pandemic remains unknown, technology solutions such as Agitron Smart Shelf Labels will continue to support the digital presence of retailers and help them adapt and operate in the current era of uncertainty.
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