As the novel coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, continues to spread across the globe at an alarming rate, the world-wide ramifications of lockdown measures are hitting multinational and local retailers hard. With consumers staying home to curb the spread, various sectors within the retail industry are seeing varying degrees of lulls, spikes, and demands as human to human contact is minimized. While online ordering and shipping have increased exponentially, supermarkets are seeing a rise in sales, and supply chains are seeing major disruptions. Unsurprisingly, as our daily routines change from our normalized freedom to restriction in movement and increased anxiety, the world is changing right along with it and retailers are scrambling to adapt. Let’s take a look at the impact of coronavirus on retail and in what ways technology can help in this time of uncertainty.
Where Are Retail Execs Focusing Their Attention?
- Attention is on Demand Fluctuations: As physical markets are shutting their doors due to quarantine orders, many are seeing a precarious drop off in foot traffic as individuals do not want to risk contracting the virus or breaking the law by not adhering to official health guidelines. This has led retailers to monitor the demand fall away and shift their consumer channels, while other retailers like pharmacies and grocery stores are seeing a massive spike. The ability to predict and manage the demand for the remainder of the pandemic is critical.
- Attention is on Liquidity and business sustenance. We are seeing retailers with physical footprints, rethink their cash positions and access liquidity in order to pay the bills and deal with the downturn in demand. Retailers are now looking at how they can take advantage of emergency hardship funds and engaging with lenders to refinance loans in order to revive their financial stability.
- Attention is on Protecting Employees. Workplace shutdowns, no human-to-human contact, and the need to wear protective gear at all times while still trying to maintain business, is difficult to say the least. Retailers are addressing the challenges by filling in gaps with temporary workers in overcrowded departments, requiring employees to wear masks and gloves at all times, and even placing up glass or plastic barriers at cash registers in essential businesses that remain open.
- Attention is on Long-Term Supply Challenges. While grocery stores have a different set of problems with maintaining a high demand for supplies, non-food retailers are weathering drops in demand coupled with slow-to-move inventory. Short-terms supply is not an issue, but as more disruptions arise, retailers need to be talking with key suppliers to manage their risks for long-term supply.
- Attention is on Customer Experience. Retailers are also focusing on how to maintain the trust of their customers, manage their expectations, and how to recover from the pandemic with a positive customer experience.
A Snapshot of the Retail Sector Based on Consumers
- In the UK, supermarkets saw a 20.6% increase in sales during March as consumers chose to stockpile supplies and forego purchasing take out food from restaurants. Brand-owned convenience stores also saw a spike in sales by almost 30%.
- Amazon sales skyrocket, experiencing volumes similar to that of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As a result, Amazon is hiring 100,000 new warehouse staff and raising the salary temporarily by an extra $2 per hour.
- Millennials and Gen Z individuals are concerned about the pandemic and its effects on the economy and as a result, are stock piling food, medical, and essential items while spending less on experiences. Older generations, those coined Boomers and Gen Xers are also concerned but are not impacted nearly as much, with only 24% of Boomers and 34% of Gen Xer’s allowing the pandemic to impact their spending habits.
How Can Technology Help Us During Covid-19?
- Online Ordering. With the closure of most physical retailers, online ordering is booming and thankfully too, as it is the only way to currently get items that are not from a grocery store or pharmacy. Retailers must focus on upgrading their online ordering systems so that customers have a smooth experience. Online ordering is the only way to now get contactless delivery from the majority of places and is the only way to stay completely safe from the virus. Combine this with mandatory shelter in place orders, and online ordering becomes the only way people can get access to goods and services.
- Virtual Try-On With Smart Mirrors. When it comes to shopping for cosmetics or clothing, you would normally go into the shop of your choice and try on a new shade or a new dress in the fitting room. With Covid-19 causing massive rifts in both fashion and retail, many companies are integrating smart mirrors and virtual try-on software into their websites and mobile applications. This gives retailers the option to still cater to shoppers without needing them to ever leave their home. For instance, Amsale New York is catering to their bride and bridesmaid customers by offering them virtual try-ons for their complete wedding wardrobe and bridesmaids collections. It is likely that other retailers will follow suit.
- Shift Management Systems. In the wake of Covid-19, hundreds of thousands of companies have had to shift into a remote working environment as having employees come into the office just isn’t practical. This sudden need to provide employees with ways to work from home has presented many logistical problems, which is where shift management software can help.
Companies like Slack and Microsoft are making their cloud productivity suites free for small businesses for the next six months, in an attempt to help the world adapt to remote work. Beyond offering their productivity suites, features like business chat software, consultations, and video conferencing options have had their limitations lifted as well. It is important that businesses of all sizes look into shift management systems and collaborative programs that can aid their employees with staying on top of projects. Many of these shift management systems have timelines, task lists, collaborative chatting, and video conferencing to aid in the seamless transference of work from worker to worker.
- Catalogue Apps & Websites. As a retailer, having an online catalogue website or mobile application is far more important now than it ever was before. With hundreds of thousands of more people shopping online, having your products and services easily accessible through a catalogue system is critical for making sales. A product catalogue app will show off all of your products in a gallery mode-type, which gives potential buyers the ability to track their favorite products, the pricing of products and services, as well as product descriptions and manufacturers. It offers a seamless and smooth user-experience which is necessary during heavy-traffic load times.
- Digital Marketing of Products and Services. With the cancellation of trade shows, events, and little to no foot traffic, businesses are going to need to rely on digital marketing strategies now more than ever. The shift to remote work and collaboration, means that companies must embrace digital channels and transform if they want to survive the pandemic. This means launching new e-commerce channels, creating social media campaigns, using influencers, and updating websites to focus more on search engine optimization in order to reach their audiences.
It is important that businesses consider using Facebook or LinkedIn Live, partner with digital marketers, and offer virtual events as these will increase conversions and provide both leads and sales. Regardless of how long the pandemic lasts for, a shift to digital marketing of one’s products and services will not only replace opportunities lost, but it can provide long-term value. As the COVID19 outbreak continues to create havoc on the supply chain, many retailers and brands are opting for technology solution providers to help manage the crisis. Let’s join hands together to fight against this Pandemic.