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06/11/2021

CSA Q&A: Verizon Media says brick-and-mortar still vital post-COVID-19

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Andrea Wasserman

Despite the shift to e-commerce caused by COVID-19, retailers’ post-pandemic strategies should include a prominent focus on physical stores.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Andrea Wasserman, head of global commerce, Verizon Media, about how digital and physical retail have both changed as a result of the pandemic. 

How have retailers merged digital and physical retailing since the start of the pandemic?

As we saw, consumer shopping behaviors changed virtually overnight with COVID-19, causing people to stay home and make more everyday purchases online. Emerging digital shopping tools, from 3D product catalogs and AR try-ons, to becoming more comfortable with online grocery shopping and a stranger selecting your produce, became the new normal of a pandemic shopping experience.

Retailers saw first-hand how these tools can inspire audiences and help bring the best of brick and mortar online. Consumers also adapted, and became more comfortable using technology to replicate an in-store shopping experience.

With physical retail, businesses have also shifted how they sell goods in store and connect with customers. Stores have introduced new floor plans, updated rules, and tapped tools from the digital shopping experience. Now as the country reopens, there’s a newfound novelty to shopping in-person, and brands must over-deliver on an in-store experience not only on-par with digital, but better.

Now that consumers are returning to "normal" life, how should retailers adapt their brick-and-mortar and digital strategies?

The core tenets of customer retention, from valuing loyal customers to building better experiences based on user feedback, have always been paramount in retail, but are even more important now as retailers adapt their brick-and-mortar and digital strategies.

As businesses in the U.S. reopen, brands who gained new customers online now have an opportunity to introduce those customers to their physical stores. It’s an exciting new point of connection and one that should be leveraged. Post-pandemic retention can and should still focus on the physical world

All this talk of going out and leaving the house also means consumers may not be spending as much time at home, and in front of a screen, as they were earlier this year. Figure out the most relevant and notable ways to connect, whether it’s via digital-out-of-home (DOOH), or doubling down on your mobile advertising, to reach shoppers on-the-go. 

What can retailers do to overcome supply chain issues that have arisen due to the pandemic?

COVID-19 brought major challenges to the supply chain, from temporary trade restrictions globally to shortages here in the U.S. Many of the longstanding supply chain issues we were dealing with, even before the pandemic, were exposed. I think coming out of it, you’ll see more of an investment in artificial intelligence and inventory planning technology as manufacturers work to become more resilient, and even collaborative, in improving the factory-to-brand-to-consumer chain.

What can retailers do this summer? Rethink insights capabilities and distribution opportunities. Which intelligence and last-mile delivery or distribution channel partners will best support getting in-demand products to your customers? 

There was a pronounced e-commerce shift during the pandemic. Will that continue or will some of those sales revert to brick-and-mortar?

Has brick-and-mortar retail changed forever? Yes. Is brick and mortar retail finished? Not by a longshot. Rather, the role of the physical store is changing. We’re seeing new opportunities for brands and retailers with physical spaces, inspired by digital commerce.

The brick-and-mortar shopping experience will become more of a novelty than ever before, so retailers have to connect the dots between the digital shopping experience and what’s happening in the physical store. While shopping habits and behaviors are forever changed, there are new opportunities to connect with shoppers in both the physical and online shopping experience.