This article is part of Raydiant’s Re-opening of Brick and Mortar series which interviews top retail industry experts to better understand the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the sector, how retailers should prepare for the re-opening and what trends, challenges and changes are expected over the next few months.
The following is an interview we had with Sarah Assous, CMO of Zoovu.
What will the re-opening of brick and mortar retail look like?
SA: Re-opening of retail will require technological advances to ensure customers can find what they are looking for with ease, whether they are interested in click and collect or going into the store. The adoption of conversational technology on retail sites can help bridge the online and offline experience by allowing customers to make appointments with store associates who have been given information on the needs and wants of the customer to streamline the in-store buying experiences.
What should retailers be doing now to prepare for the re-opening?
SA: Retailers need to be thinking about how to create a true omnichannel experience that is centered around addressing customer’s needs and wants to simplify the buyer’s journey. Those who adapted quickly to prioritize digital strategy and improving the buyer’s journey to ensure their customers could continue to purchase from their stores during the pandemic will be the winners long term.
How will COVID-19 impact consumer behavior over the long term?
SA: If you look at the first few weeks of lockdown, you see consumers adapted their behavior very quickly. By the end of March, 90% of consumers altered their shopping habits to be digital-first reliant and turned to a variety of channels and methods of buying online to fulfill their purchasing needs. When their go-to retailers, like Amazon or Walmart, did not have products they needed, they sought second-tier retailers or brand manufacturers owned websites to buy. The lasting impression for consumers is: I can rely on multiple retailers and brands to ensure I find what I need, and the vast majority of them will remember those experiences post-pandemic and continue to buy from them.
What will be the lasting effects of COVID-19 on brick and mortar retail?
SA: The lasting effects of COVID-19 on brick & mortar retail will be the need for omnichannel and providing the same level of guidance and assistance expected from the pre-pandemic in-store experience to digital channels. This requires all brick and mortar stores to be adopting technology on their digital platforms that simplify the customer journey. We may not be able to go into a store and browse for an extended period of time, both customers and businesses will need to adapt.
What retail technologies will see adoption accelerated due to COVID-19?
SA: It’s important to recognize consumer usage of ecommerce hit 2022 projections within the first 2 months of the global pandemic. Retailers had to quickly pivot to meet the increasing demand and need for straight forward paths to purchase on ecommerce channels, whether it was adopting click and collect capabilities to building an ecommerce site for the first time. There are a handful of retail technologies that will continue to see adoption accelerated due to COVID-19. Conversational search platforms such as digital assistants and product selectors will be vital to helping consumers find what they are looking for based on their needs and wants. We will see QR codes used to bridge the gap between offline and online search experiences to speed up the in-store decision making process. Lastly, email marketing has seen an incredible resurgence: email open rates are increasing and we will start to see technology solutions create engaging experiences with dynamic email content. While the cause for the acceleration of ecommerce adoption is not what we anyone could have anticipated or predicted, it is exciting to see how retailers are rising to the challenge to ensure their customers can continue to find what they are looking for.