Getting retail through COVID-19

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Mikołaj Saik, Emil Waszkowski
Getting retail through COVID-19

According to Salesforce, 62% of baby boomers and 58% of generation Z still prefer shopping in physical stores. In tough times like these, though, going to a brick-and-mortar shop might not be an option. In fact, even with the COVID-19 quarantine being over, customers may be likely to avoid crowded places for a little while longer.

While the situation and its consequences are beyond the retailers’ control, they have to be realistic about running their businesses and keeping both their employees and customers safe. Even without the most recent complications, shopping itself is not a straightforward process anymore. Consumers constantly switch between platforms, devices, as well as online and offline stores. Not to mention that every purchase starts with thorough research, which usually happens online.

In such circumstances, retailers don’t have much choice but to tailor their business to their customers’ expectations and make it possible for them to stay at home as much as possible. Luckily, technology can come to the rescue.

As initiators and supporters of new technologies and mobile experiences ourselves, we can see how they can help reduce human contact and still contribute to a sales increase, both online and offline. As a matter of fact, such solutions already exist. Scanning or click & collect can make grocery shopping a lot safer nowadays, while visual search and AR can somewhat replace the shopping experience in-store. Here’s exactly how technology can get retail through tough times.

Retail tech solutions to leverage during COVID-19 quarantine

While we’ve already discussed some innovative in-store solutions in one of our recent blog posts, it’s only fair to take into account the recent developments and focus on retail tech solutions that can be used in times like these. 

1. Scan & Go. 

The scale of using barcodes & QR codes in retail is astonishing. Nowadays, scanning these codes can give your employees and customers a lot of benefits. To start with, it makes it easier to track the products and manage them more effectively throughout the whole supply chain. From the customer perspective, however, the codes can be a rich source of information about products, and make shopping a lot faster and more secure with the Scan & Go option.

What are the benefits of Scan & Go during COVID-19 quarantine? 

It’s no secret that Scan & Go has already been implemented by well-known retailers like Walmart or Carrefour - and they can come in useful these days in particular. Interestingly, NYC based Fairway Market recently saw an increase of app downloads by 300%, with over 20% of transactions being finalised with the Scan & Go option. 

Given the current situation, Scan & Go can be beneficial for both customers and store staff - especially when it comes to improving their safety. It makes it possible to scan products that are about to be purchased, and pay for them even within the mobile app, allowing the customers to reduce human contact and avoid standing in lines. 

There are quite a few providers of such a solution on the market. Few of the retailers created it internally, while others are using providers to develop it or licensing a “White label” solution. In fact, using a ready solution via SDK into the retailers’ mobile app makes implementing Scan & Go in existing apps and connecting them to various backend systems much easier and faster. 

A Key Success Factor for implementing Scan & Go is to get it adopted by customers as fast as possible. The most important factor here is the UI - the tool should be very intuitive and simple to use, require very little engagement - a small number of clicks should be done before purchase, and no unnecessary details should be asked. 

We like FutureProof Retail solution a lot because it has the best and simplest UI and hence gets very high adoption. Actually, to ensure the simplicity of the UI, FPR used Grandma Test - they tested each feature with a group of real grandmas to make sure it is easy for them to use before the feature is released. 

Apart from that, their Scan N Go has many features that add value both for the shoppers and the retailers. In-store navigation, marketing automation of in-store promotions, or shopping suggestions (i.e. shop by recipe or shop by non-gluten, etc.) are just a few examples. Since one of the concerns of retailers in using Scan N Go is shrinkage and theft, FPR also offers comprehensive anti-theft & anti-fraud protection through dedicated technology and well-tested methodology. 

And the best part? They now make it possible for grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies and other retail establishments that operate in a national state of emergency to try their express checkout app free of charge. The deployment itself shouldn’t take longer than just a few days, while retailers can add their own branding to the app and manage their operations more efficiently, for example by viewing all transactions in real-time.

2. Click and collect.  

The option to “Click and collect” has been offered by increasingly more stores. Interestingly, it’s often referred to as the most valuable aspect of the shopping experience (by more than four in ten consumers, to be exact). 

The idea is to order products online (mostly via a mobile app), and collect them by the entrance of the stores, from special “parcel locker” nearby, or other supporting locations, such as courier company branches. The added value is quite obvious - saving time on doing the actual shopping and standing in lines. The customers can simply use their mobile app, even pay with their smartphone and collect loyalty points once they’re at it. 

Click & collect as a popular shopping option

There’s no doubt that these days, click & collect can make shopping easier for everyone involved. Although retailers have to take care of a few things first in order to implement click & collect in their stores

  • human resources to handle the orders, 

  • clear and intuitive mobile software that will be able to handle the whole new system, 

  • as well as dedicated places to store the parcels that are about to be collected (like lockers, for example). 

Amazon Hub Locker, as well as Walmart’s Pickup Towers, are perfect examples. Their customers are choosing the exact locations that they want their products to be delivered to from the map, and in many cases, they can collect it even the same day - without human contact. Such solutions can also be implemented with a little help from businesses that already offer robotised parcel machines and pickup points for online orders, as Retail Robotics does.

3. Augmented Reality.  

Augmented Reality is no longer about simply putting 3D images and frames on your smartphone’s camera view. It’s already a whole market of multiple (and more or less useful) solutions that you can take advantage of. In fact, according to “The robot in the room” report issued by NRF, the market awareness of AR solutions slightly exceeds 20%, whereas 86% of people who had a chance to use it are willing to continue doing so. 

How to leverage AR, then? You might want to pair up with the solution providers - such as Augment (AR for 3D models of furniture and devices), or Modiface (AR make-up and face analysis). There are plenty of more examples like these - and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that increasingly more retailers decide to cooperate with them. Especially since implementing AR comes down to making good use of the SDK developed by the above-mentioned solution providers. 

Use cases of AR in retail 

Making good use of AR is definitely more visible in retail than in other industries - yet, their full potential is still far from being exploited. So far, there are a few common use cases of AR in retail that revolve around mobile or in-store solutions. 

Thanks to mobile devices being increasingly more powerful, they make it possible to create a 3D model of a product and “apply” this model to the external environment. In many cases, this might be enough to “get customers to your door”, without them actually going anywhere. 

IKEA can serve as a good example here since its mobile app enables the users to place any piece of furniture in their own home without the need to purchase it first. Lego, on the other hand, gives the users a chance to see how the “constructions” from Lego blocks will look like when finished. Other interesting use cases are provided by Converse, Wannakicks, or Lacoste since they all make it possible to try their shoes on without going to the store. Here’s exactly how Wannakicks looks like in action.

Byond VR from Israel, on the other hand, offers a suite of solutions for retailers and brands, including: 

  • a 3D Digital Transformation platform,

  • Digital Fashion Showrooms that create an interactive online story and showcase new collections for sell-in,

  • planning assortment or performing in-house production reviews, 

  • Stores that offer Visual Merchandising & 3D Store Simulations, 

  • or virtual tour around the store, allowing to dynamically manage the content.

Another approach is offered by ARPalus for retailers and brands to use AR to test and implement merchandising displays in-store. Essentially, AR helps retailers to increase conversions, improve the efficiency of operations, and let consumers immerse in their experiences without leaving homes - which is exactly what’s needed in times of coronavirus pandemics. It should come as no surprise, then, that 63% of retailers have already been implementing AR solutions, or planning to do so. 

4. Visual search.

Visual search is all about taking advantage of real-world images (such as screenshots, pictures, and photos) to perform online searches with a little help from AI. Since machines are now capable of reading the visual content, understanding it, and finding the related results on the web - why not use this option in retail? 

Even though the main players that are interested in improving visual search are Pinterest, Amazon, and Google, there are plenty of smaller entities that also work on it. In fact, Slyce or Syte, for example, already specialise in making visual search possible for retailers.  

Why is it the right time to leverage visual search in retail, though? According to Gartner, early adopters that will redesign their websites to support visual and voice search, are expected to increase their digital commerce revenue by even 30%. What’s more, visual search can somehow replace the idea of shopping in-store, as customers can look for products they see and like without even going window-shopping. In tough times, such replacement might be all they need.  

Visual search in practice

At the moment, the most common use of visual search in retail is the ability to find a product from a photo in a specific store (or stores). The goal is mainly to boost sales by directing traffic to product pages that are searched by customers. This can work wonders, especially for fashion retailers and brands. 

In many cases, visual search can simply shorten the time between the actual search and purchase. For younger generations, it’s a popular way of looking for products - in fact, 62% of millennials already prefer visual search over any other new technology.

Nonetheless, visual search can also be used for increasing conversion. Forever 21, for instance, claims to have increased its AOV by 20% thanks to visual search. It’s not the only example, as visual search has also been used by IKEA, Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger or eBay.

5. Field management solutions.   

In times of crisis, it’s important to keep things under control and make fast, yet informed decisions. This gets much easier with tech solutions that can not only streamline your operations but also manage retail stores faster and more effectively.  

Interestingly, some retailers already implemented internal management solutions a while ago - and they definitely don’t regret that decision now, given the difficult situation caused by COVID-19. Take Żabka Polska and its frappka app as an example. It was initially created to make the store management easier for Żabka’s over 4000 franchisees, which comes in useful especially in times like these. Nowadays, Żabka can easily communicate with its franchisees and help thousands of stores plan & track their product deliveries, just to name a few benefits.  

Speaking of internal management during tough times like COVID-19 quarantine, it’s also worth mentioning Eyedo and its field operations management & optimisation tool.  In case any problems arise, Eyedo makes it possible to address and tackle them immediately - by informing everyone involved, setting off alarms and reminders, and allowing to report on task progression to finally resolve them. 

Apart from that, Eyedo's solution also integrates technologies such as Computer Vision to ensure field operations are completed well. It can verify automatically if the Planograms complies with the requirements, if the promotion in-store is implemented properly according to the “picture of success”, and much more. It uses Geofencing to ensure field operations are done at the right place and time, and that the routes and actions are optimised for routing, headcount, and more.

Tough times like COVID-19 quarantine require smart measures

The economic downturn is inevitable - but it doesn’t mean that retailers can afford to sit back and do nothing. Thanks to modern technology, it’s still possible to grow your business, even during difficult times like these. In fact, all retail tech solutions that revolve around mobility can boost sales during COVID-19 quarantine. 

These days, the goal should be to enable online shopping and reduce “physical” contact as much as possible, even for (or especially for) brick-and-mortar stores. The faster the retailers implement and improve solutions like click & collect, scan & go, AR and visual search - the less they will be affected in times of crisis. 

Here's what our experts think about it:  

The current COVID-19 crisis presents a great opportunity for retailers that are able to adapt fast. Consumer behaviour during the crisis is definitely changing: To start with, the adoption of mobile apps and tools such as smart payments and Scan N Go is growing. At the same time, however, Grocery and Drugstore retailers phase 400% to 1000% growth in traffic and orders on their websites and digital assets. Consumers that never shopped online are doing it for the first time - and once they cross this barrier and get their purchase delivered home, they may get used to it. Pretty soon, they might want to buy other goods online, not just food. Is your retail chain ready for them to do so?

The change in consumer behaviour is here to stay, and it’s bound to impact every retailer. Now is the right time to implement tech & logistic solutions that will help to adapt to these changes and become the winners when this crisis is over, which will hopefully be soon.” - Nir Manor, Retail & FMCG expert, Future Mind's advisor

A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic was impossible to predict, but it doesn’t change the fact that companies have to act accordingly. In “normal” circumstances it would’ve been more than acceptable to implement changes gradually and with time - but nowadays, it’s necessary to adapt as soon as possible. In fact, doing so can be one of the best ways to actually maintain, and even save your business. In difficult moments like these, it’s a good practice to use well-tested solutions - both in retail, as well as other industries. No matter if these solutions have to do with facilitating internal processes or making things easier for customers - they can easily be tailored to your business and its current needs. 

It’s important to remember, though, that making tech solutions work is all about “supplying” them with relevant data. In such cases, technologies like Python or Node.js are worth taking advantage of to create integrations with already existing POS or ERP systems - especially since not all of them have API supporting the flow of data in real-time. - Tomasz Woźniak, CEO, Future Mind

Interested in implementing a retail tech solution yourself? We can definitely help with that.

Authors

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Mikołaj Saik

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Emil Waszkowski

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