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CSA Exclusive: COVID-19 impacts retailers on products, personalization, people

A closer look at the recent Chain Store Age COVID-19 survey reveals some very specific areas where the pandemic is disrupting operations.

The online survey, conducted online via the Chain Store Age site, asked readers four questions about what impact, if any, the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is having on their enterprise in the areas of fulfillment, sales, store operations, and workforce management. 

I already provided a deeper dive into the effect the virus is having on sales, but let’s look a little deeper at the biggest issues it is creating in the other three areas and how technology can provide valuable assistance.

Products (Fulfillment)
The biggest COVID-19-related fulfillment issue, cited by 31% of respondents, was that certain products (i.e., household cleaners and paper products) are sold out/unavailable in the company’s supply chain. This was followed by the inability to keep store shelves stocked due to intense customer demand (25% of respondents).

Clearly, the continuing focus on certain CPG and grocery products is making it virtually impossible for retailers to stock necessities such as toilet paper and bread. No predictive supply chain solution could fully forecast the extreme disruption that has occurred in the past few weeks. 

However, retailers need to invest in real-time inventory tracking and tracing systems to minimize bottle necks and ensure that every available high-demand product in the supply chain is accounted for and accessible.

Personalization (Store operations)
Maintaining personalized customer relationships and service emerged as the biggest store operations challenge, cited by (31%) of respondents. This issue was cited by more than twice as many respondents as any other option – including increased demand for store-level delivery and creating in-store or curbside pickup zones.

Retailers will likely need to maintain social distancing in stores for weeks or even months to come, and many stores are converting to pickup-only formats. With human interaction curtailed, retailers need to ensure that their omnichannel marketing infrastructure can support promotional activities such as individually targeted and location-based mobile offers, social media campaigns, and personalized emails.

People (Workforce management)
With the coronavirus dramatically affecting when, where and how employees work, the two biggest workforce management challenges for respondents were offering payment, financial support and other services to employees who are temporarily displaced from their jobs (27%) and preventing spread of the virus among the workforce (27%).

These people issues demonstrate the need for retailers to streamline their workforce management operations using remote HR solutions. By automating payroll, sick leave requests, and other HR activities via mobile app or website, retailers can reduce the underlying cost of providing financial support and services to employees who are impacted by COVID-19.

In addition, automated workforce management solutions reduce the need to physically gather large number of employees in one place to perform tasks such as onboarding or training, which helps reduce potential virus exposure among your staff.

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