Wednesday, September 28, 2022

COVID-19 prompts retail innovation

Retail Innovations

The pandemic has had an extremely influential impact on the way we shop. With a period characterized by lockdown restrictions, mandatory quarantine, curfews, and the closure of many retail stores across the country, the retail industry was left hanging in the balance.

However, in these moments of adversity, retailers began shifting their attention to technology to alleviate some of the problems presented by COVID-19. 

Inside Telecom breaks down some of the most influential and powerful retail innovations that are being deployed today to take the online shopping experience to the next level. 

During the most stringent lockdown measures, the e-commerce scene witnessed an unprecedented boom with shoppers flocking to online stores and platforms to buy goods they could not purchase physically.

Even now, with most of these restrictions alleviated and the majority of brick-and-mortar retail stores having reopened, fears about contamination and infection still loom in peoples’ minds.

Shop owners are eager to gain their customers trust by implementing retail innovations to manage the current risks; customers are also keen on shopping again in an environment that is safe, confident, and hygienic. 

Scan, Pay & Go

Scan, Pay & Go is the name commonly given to technology that allows shoppers to use their smartphones to scan the goods they want to buy as they move around a store, usually via a dedicated app, before paying for them and leaving the store. No queueing or checkout required.

Interests have peaked regarding the Scan, Pay & Go technology a bit before the pandemic spread globally. Even a few supermarket chains have conducted trials for this technology. Now, however, interests have peaked, and the value of this solution has been demonstrated by the pandemic. 

The ability to reduce queues and improve flows around the physical store will directly correlate with fewer chances of shoppers coming in close contact and potentially spreading the virus. 

Smart digital signage 

Markings and stickers placed on the floors of retail stores are a common way to enforce social distancing guidelines and manage the flow of shoppers throughout the store. However, they are a fairly one-dimensional solution. 

Some retailers are now beginning to embrace a more high-tech solution to manage in-store footfall: digital signage.

Samsung Electronics UK has recently partnered up with Quividi, an audience and campaign intelligence platform specializing in digital signage. The goal of the partnership is to create the “next-generation” solution that will keep shoppers safe in-store while they are shopping. 

Samsung will be creating the digital signboard, powered by Quividi’s analytics solutions that work on optimizing in-store safety and security and ultimately help retailers better manage social distancing. 

By making the most out of data capturing devices, such as CCTVs, etc., this technology has the ability of tallying how many customers are in a given store and can also detect if they are wearing a mask or not

In addition to that (and here’s where it gets all 1984) this tech has the ability to utilize thermal scanning to help identify shoppers with a high temperature who might be unaware they have the virus.

The data is analyzed, and the system decides which messages are displayed on the signs via real time triggers and conditional scheduling. 

With privacy and security issues being a pressing concern for several users, retailers need to implement the digital signages in a strategic way to prevent customers from feeling uncomfortable. Retailers have the opportunity to gain valuable insights about foot traffic and customer flow through the data they collect and can in turn use this data to improve store layout and product placing. The signs also offer an additional revenue stream, by displaying adverts and promotional content along with informational messages.

Click-and-collect method 

The pandemic has matured the click-and-collect system, a typically overlooked means of obtaining online orders into a prominent method for reducing in-person contact and decreasing time spent getting online orders. 

The novel click-and-collect experience is currently being tested at several stores, with extensive data and customer feedback being observed to better understand demand. 

While the online boom brought by the pandemic might seem like good news for retailers and a valid opportunity for digital transformation, it has also impacted several retailers’ profit margins due to the increased cost of delivery and logistics. 

By offering click-and-collect, retailers can cut these costs without missing any benefits that online channels have to offer. 

QR codes make a comeback 

QR codes are currently going through a renaissance at the moment in certain sectors like healthcare and hospitality and are being redefined as an effective means of accessing information, tracking movements, and activating virtual experiences. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see QR codes as part of the latest retail innovations being deployed in stores and shops. 

QR codes are already well established in digitally advanced countries like China and serve as effective contactless payment method. This usage of QR codes is making its way to the west, where PayPal in the U.S has partnered with Venmo and are rolling out a QR code payment technology across all 8,200 CVS pharmacies all over the country. 

The QR codes will give CVS Pharmacy customers the option of paying for their purchases with stored debit or credit cards, bank accounts, their PayPal balance, PayPal Credit, Venmo balance or Venmo Rewards – as long as they have an account with PayPal or Venmo.

QR codes have also proved their value outside of facilitating payments by acting as a practical means to share business contact info. WhatsApp recently revealed a feature that allows WhatsApp business to create and share QR codes, that when scanned, will initiate a direct WhatsApp chat with the business in question. 

The current pandemic has set the stage for QR codes to take off as a flexible means of conducting transactions. With other advantages such as incorporating discount vouchers, loyalty programs and even virtual storefronts. 

While the current pandemic has brought forward numerous challenges for the retail sector, it has also inspired new retail innovations that can be used for enhanced, safer shopping experiences.