What does life after COVID-19 look like for brick-and-mortar retail? Shoppers are reentering physical store locations slowly but surely, and with different attitudes after a months-long shopping hiatus. It was a grim spring and summer for many retailers. Forward-looking shops took the opportunity to roll out an online presence to engage customers in their homes, and in doing so, dipped their toes into omnichannel sales and marketing efforts for the first time.
The pandemic— and how we responded to it—undoubtedly will have lasting changes in the way people shop. Here are a few ideas that retailers might consider implementing in order to modernize their operations post-pandemic.
Instituting contactless transactions
Contactless transactions present a more hygienic option that customers are coming to expect from their shopping experience. Retailers want to look at having an NFC-enabled point of sale (POS) system that supports contactless transactions. Stores locations that are installing completely new equipment can find POS systems available with a built-in NFC reader. These are able to seamlessly handle transactions over Android Pay, Apple Pay, and other NFC payment platforms.
Fortunately, stores do not need to rip and replace their existing systems to support contactless transactions. Modular NFC card readers and PIN pads are available as add-ons; standard credit card payment terminals offer connectivity for 3rd party peripherals. Most have additional input/output ports, typically USB and mini-HDMI, along with serial ports for connecting older equipment. Check for any required POS accessories that may be necessary for integrating an NFC reader into an existing setup, like wall mounts, cables, or brackets.
In-store digital customer experience
Stores have to do more to attract customers to brick-and-mortar locations. Today’s shoppers need a better reason to venture out into public, and it’s up to retailers to provide the necessary enticement. Even before the pandemic hit, forward-thinking retailers turned to a digital customer experience as a way to deliver “wow” service at store locations.
If you’re not already engaging customers with digital signage, it’s time to start thinking about how strategically placed screens can present customers with the information that they need. In the post-COVID-19 landscape, digital signage might remind customers to mindfully social distance themselves, or broadcast timely messages about high-demand products.
Once screens are in place, content is managed using cloud applications on a remote basis. You can connect and control digital displays at a distance, and nobody has to venture “into the field” to update the signage. Easy-to-use content management systems (CMS) allow you to cycle through displayed content instantly and show off in-store promotions at strategic times.
Wireless network infrastructure
Offering free Wi-Fi in the store is a value-add that customers have grown to expect. Additionally, the WLAN opens the door to offering personalized Wi-Fi marketing opportunities for the retailer. In-store Wi-Fi for customers, combined with emerging technologies such as smart building systems, places a lot of demand on wireless networks. Stores now require business class WLAN equipment to handle the load. Retailers might pay monthly for a managed service provider to install and maintain cloud-managed Wi-Fi solutions. It’s not entirely out of the question for stores to install their own solution, as there are easy to manage solutions designed for end-users without formal training. (See: Linksys for Business and Netgear Insight equipment)
Personalized customer experiences
Making a customer a repeat customer involves building a relationship wherein they feel treated as a unique individual. Stores can do this using data they collect to build out a profile for each customer. Tracking a purchase history is a typical starting point; from there personal preferences can be applied to each shopper that frequents a store location.
The best way for a retailer to provide a tailored experience for customers is by using customer relations management (CRM) software. Utilizing a database of customer information collected at point of sale, CRMs allow retailers to undertake any number of marketing operations that encourage cross-selling and upselling, allow access to customers at the store and away from it, and gain visibility into customer behavior across channels.
There are dozens of CRMs available for retail operations of all sizes. Most come equipped with contact management, reporting, and marketing functions, plus retail-specific tools like loyalty programs, inventory tracking and order management. Many CRMs integrate with point-of-sale systems. Each CRM offers various levels of affordability, ease of use, and customer support. Leaders in the retail CRM space include NetSuite, Salesforce, Vend, Rain Point of Sale, Runit RealTime Cloud, Repsly, among many others.
Online Ordering and E-Commerce
Many brick-and-mortar retailers who bolstered their online presence during the pandemic found favorable results. Customers have grown accustomed to a great e-commerce shopping experience, which means retailers need to up their e-commerce experience if they haven’t yet already. Making it as easy as possible for customers to browse, research, compare, buy and return will yield results in the coming years.
There are a number of considerations to make when taking retail operations online. Platform selection is important. Retailers want a platform that integrates with their POS and inventory management systems. If stores have an existing website, this usually means using a web hosting service plug-in. If stores don’t have a website, this means integrating point-of-sale data into an e-commerce platform of their choosing.
As to which products to sell online, retailers might look to one of the oldest rules in the business playbook: the Pareto Principle. This is an aphorism which asserts that 80 percent of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20 percent of all causes (or inputs) for any given event. What this might look like for a company getting into e-commerce is to start by offering your top 20 percent of products in terms of revenue on your website or a third party ecommerce platform.
Barring items that cannot be sold digitally either by law or by sensibility, the 80-20 rule allows retailers to start simple. This helps operations ease into the challenges of conducting business online—shipping, inventory, logistics, and marketing across channels. Retailers can also expect to gain a sense of what products sell online and at what price point.