The Retail Technology Trends from COVID-19 that are Here to Stay

By: Nell Alverson, Director, Channel Marketing, ScanSource

COVID-19 dramatically changed the traditional retail environment and the industry was forced to rapidly escalate its digital transformation. With fewer in-store shoppers, retail spaces were repurposed, and health and safety concerns meant retailers instituted new sanitation measures. These retail technology enhancements in service, sanitation, and e-commerce may have been prompted by the pandemic, but they are here to stay.

Many retail stores provided new services to offer safer transaction options for their customers. In many cases, we are seeing more self-checkout stations and contactless payment options in addition to new purchase options including buy online pick up in store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and delivery services. Stores are also adding staff to adhere to newly implemented safety measures, like increased in-store sanitation, to keep customers safe while shopping.  

As retailers adapt to stay competitive, they must find ways to increase the level of service they offer customers without raising prices as consumers are increasingly cost conscious due to economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Retaining customers depends on offering convenient service options and providing customers with the best value.

Early on, retailers implemented protocols to help disinfect and protect their customers with social distancing reminders, staff frequently disinfecting keypads at the checkout, and hand sanitizing stations throughout stores. There has also been innovation in safety and sanitation products, like antimicrobial covers for door handles, payment terminal keypad covers, and sneeze guards/sanitary barriers which retailers can utilize to ensure the safety of their customers and employees.

But it is not enough to just take these measures – they also must have proper messaging. Communicating the actions a retailer is taking to ensure the shopping environment is safe is critical – not only to retain loyal customers, but also to gain new ones who may be looking for a safer shopping experience. Businesses must ensure their efforts are visible to the consumer. Customers want to know what safety measures and precautions have been implemented in the stores where they shop – not just now, but from now on.

Retailers will need to continue to upgrade their technology to address the changing demands of their customer base. The businesses doing this successfully are proactively responding to sanitation trends and utilizing new technologies that enable a safer and cleaner shopping experience.

Consumers have begun to consolidate their shopping. Before the pandemic, you might have gone shopping two or three times in a week, but now many are choosing to purchase online and are cutting down on the number of physical stores they enter. This convenience is appreciated by consumers and e-commerce will continue to grow.   

Considering this trend, it’s imperative that stores integrate their online ordering system with existing tools to ensure seamless transactions. Online and curbside pickup shoppers have different wants and needs than in-store shoppers, and stores will need to properly address the requirements of these specific customer segments.

The retailers who have been most successful in the e-commerce space are the businesses who have successfully married their e-commerce and enterprise solutions – making the online experience as frictionless as an in-store transaction would be. They ensure that the types of transactions available in-store are also available via e-commerce, including purchases, returns, exchanges, and refunds. Today, more than ever, the e-commerce experience should be as good – if not better – than the in-store experience.  

What’s Next?
Store owners will continue to invest in automation to become more efficient, offer contactless solutions, and reduce labor costs. We will continue to see growth in self-checkout and self-service, providing a contactless solution and improving the customer experience. Similarly, RFID will become more commonly used in checkout solutions, allowing for all products to be scanned simultaneously versus one at a time – saving time for both the customers and employees.

We will also start to see the use of robotics in inventory management and possibly order selection. Some retailers are already using store locations as micro-fulfillment centers, or reformatting stores to make one area consumer-facing shopping and the other area purely fulfillment.

The changes we have seen over the last year are just the beginning. As the retail environment continues to evolve, retailers need to start preparing for the needs of the future – where convenience will be king.