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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted retail to a point where there is no going back. It has brought forward digital transformation and changed the way consumers want to, and expect to, shop.

As restrictions begin to ease, all the new habits adopted by consumers to keep themselves safe are going to stick; everything from a growing use of self-checkout to an expectation for more space is going to force retailers into reinventing stores.

But it is how quickly they can do that, which will become the biggest driver of their future profitability and success.

The importance of in-store digitalisation in this more risk-averse world is key. Consumers want:

  • To get in and out of a store quickly
  • The convenience to pay with their mobile
  • An ability to avoid physical contact, where possible
  • A quick and seamless self-checkout offering
  • Everything to work simply, smoothly and safely
  • Full shelves and product availability
  • Consistency across all channels

Achieving this might be perceived as the hard part but the technology is already there to make it work, and to deliver this reality to the large number of consumers who now increasingly demand it.

Online and Offline experiences

One of the main ways this will happen, especially in regards to reducing close contact between customers and associates, is by building a new generation of stores - and existing in-store offerings - around a combined Online and Offline (O2O) experience.

This will reduce barriers and boundaries and can be accomplished by digitalising consumer and associate journeys, creating O2O baskets that are centralised with the same business logic for products, prices and promotions.

No longer will there, or should there be, a differentiation between how a consumer interacts in a physical store environment vs a mobile/online version - with the two seamlessly working together to meet consumers' contactless needs. 

Diebold Nixdorf, for example, is pioneering an approach using "open APIs" to create this unified experience for customers across all channels. 

In-store associates can work from a mobile device to manage inventory and queries, rather than on checkouts, while consumers can use scan and go, self-checkout and mobile payment and receive remote help from an assistant if a problem occurs, rather than coming into close contact with them. 

The introduction of such mobile technology will also enable a greater and more efficient use of Click and Collect-style shopping, with consumers ordering from home on a smartphone app or computer, but then using their mobile device for a contactless-enabled pick-up of their order.

This hands-off approach will not only make consumers feel safer, but also increases the safety of associates too.

The future of safe and frictionless shopping

As stated on our Store Mobility whitepaper, 54% of people are concerned that there are not enough self-checkouts in-store. 

That data from the ‘Zebra Retail Vision Study: The Essential Shopper Experience’ proves where the gaps are right now to fix if retailers are going to ensure consumer autonomy over the final payment leg of their in-store experience. 

In fact, the same study found 75% of shoppers said they wanted to get in and out of stores as quickly as possible - and that's a post-pandemic expectation likely to continue, or perhaps increase. 

So whether that is achieved through Scan and Go technology, digital payments, mobile wallets or self-checkout, it is clear retailers will now have to rethink the balance between digitally enabled self-service and traditional checkout operations in the future. 

Moving forward, the choices retailers make now will define their next five years, a period of time post-pandemic when safe, contact-free shopping will become the main consumer desire and their new normal. 

Delve into the leading mobile in-store solutions that will meet future customer expectations by downloading our Store Mobility Paper now.

Author: Mark Thomson

Retail Industry Director, EMEA, Zebra Technologies

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