The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives. On one hand, the death toll continues to rise, while on the other, the global economy is also on a decline. Moody’s heat map shows the economic state of various industries, among which, the case of retail is quite peculiar. While groceries and drug stores are operational to ensure essential supplies, the lockdown mandate has deeply impacted retailers of non-essential goods.
On the flip side, the mass quarantine has led to people spending more time online, including e-commerce portals. The online purchase pattern for certain product categories (in certain regions) is closely associated with the spread of the virus locally. Grocery and health-related products have registered the steepest rise in online purchases. This has impelled many retailers to cut down their inventory and stock up the basics. That said, fashion retailers have also observed a steady number of visits, with people spending 13.9% more time on their pages. Their average conversion rate has also grown by 7.3%. Analysis of these interdependencies can help retailers to attune their portfolio per the current needs of the people.
Technology Innovations in Retail
The challenges arising from the crisis will accelerate the use of existing and new technologies. In these difficult times, retailers can provide some respite to people by making shopping more convenient. By leveraging digital assistants, intelligent search engines, and efficient data-driven insights, retailers can make the customer experience delightful and painless.
Besides customer experience, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also showing tremendous potential to improve customer service by providing beneficial retail solutions. Chat bots deployed for personalized marketing messages can be trained to empathize with customers to make up (to an extent) for the lack of human touch. AI and predictive analytics are also helping in anticipating customers' unique requirements and reducing erroneous product recommendations.
AR and VR have added unheralded dimensions to customer experience. The role of AR and VR is remarkable, especially in these times when people are indoor bound. While VR technology is allowing people to experience a visit to a virtual shopping mall, the AR technology enables them to try on products virtually before purchase. Using social media, people can, and are, sharing AR photos with their peers to get their views on the product and how it looks on them. The scope of online retailing has been truly redefined.
Boldly Moving Forward with Technology
To mitigate disruptions due to various lockdowns that are in place currently, retailers should shift gears and take dynamic steps. Adopting enterprise mobility can enable them to deliver enhanced customer experience. Integrated solutions that provide a holistic view of IT and business can be a game-changer in these times.
To ensure the efficiency of their operations, online retailing should integrate consumer behavior data into their logistics and product systems as part of their business strategies. This data can be dynamically sourced from a multitude of sources such as past purchases, social media, and online behavior. By using this data, retailers can enter more synergetic partnerships with their suppliers, which can help diversify their supplier base by procuring new vendors in order to keep the flow of goods steady even during disruptive periods. This is especially relevant since the biggest impact of the outbreak on the existing retail structure has been caused by extensive supply chain disruption.
China, as a manufacturing hub, was the primary center for the COVID-19 outbreak. The subsequent restrictions and sweeping lockdown measures saw most of the supply chain come to an abrupt halt, a trend that has been mirrored across most industrialized nations, jeopardizing the global supply chain en masse. This crisis has put the entire framework under the scanner and has rejuvenated the pertinence of locally sourced materials and their suppliers.
Mitigating future catastrophes will largely hinge on factors that alleviate supply chain stress through a lean production system. From improving reverse logistics as a part of lean supply chain operations to better communication with suppliers that result in improved supplier relationship management, steps need to be taken in order to ensure a safer future for retail in case of any impending disruption. It is imperative that businesses see the long term and sustainable benefits of implementing LEAN tools and frameworks that enhance an organization’s throughput, quality, and security while reducing waste.
Ultimately, retailers will have to do what they've always done—adapt to change to ensure a secured future for retail. To bounce back after the current crisis of supply chain disruption, retailers need to leverage the latest technologies to devise new business strategies. Retailers can choose to partner with business transformation specialists for expert advice on implementing future-proof business strategies and processes for better supply chain operations.
HCL for the New Normal
HCL’s suite of retail solutions is aimed at helping businesses to transition into nimble and resilient entities. From MyStore, which provides real-time monitoring, to Retail Connect , which enables quick and efficient mobile application deployment; from Integrated Retail Planning (IRP) , the solution that helps in aligning the retail supply chain with business strategies and objectives, to Responsive Manufacturing , a lean consulting service aimed at enabling sustainable production system—HCL has the retail solutions for the new normal.