Expert Insight: Tech trends retailers should embrace during COVID-19

lightbulb with shopping cart inside

The retail landscape has undergone a dramatic shift in the last decade because of emerging technologies.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been brought to light just how important technology’s role is in providing a successful and safe retail experience. As retailers have adapted to new regulations and complied with social distancing guidelines, they have needed to drastically alter their day-to-day and longer-term operations. From increased dependence on mobile technologies and modern IT infrastructure to the increased popularity of buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) offerings and cashierless checkouts, the modern retail experience has dramatically evolved.

This pandemic has not only shed light on the need for retailers to leverage technology and modernize their operations, but its also accelerated the speed with which retailers need to innovate. Organizations that want to keep up with customer expectations and keep pace of this innovation must find new methods to reach their consumers and provide seamless, shopping experiences. Below are the top technologies that retailers should embrace today:

Cashierless shopping

Prior to the pandemic, Amazon launched its own version of a cashierless grocery store chain – “Amazon Go” – while Walmart rolled out its “Scan & Go” service. By utilizing a combination of cameras, shelf sensors and software, companies are identifying new ways to expedite in-store payment processes and eliminate some of the pain points that come with the checkout process.

Today, cashierless checkout options have increasingly become a needed—and in some cases expected—offering from retailers. They enable customers to purchase their items with fewer human interactions at a time when consumers are prioritizing convenient yet safe shopping experiences.

Buy online pickup in store (BOPIS)

One of the biggest challenges retailers face today is reducing the friction involved with consumers being able to “consume.” Personalized shopping experiences, which include options like the ability to buy online and pick up in store, are one way to reduce this friction. BOPIS has been a crucial way for many retailers to continue their business through the pandemic. Even as things return to normal, customers will want the continued freedom to consume in whichever way feels most comfortable to them—whether that’s in-store, through pickup or delivery. 

To put in place a comprehensive BOPIS strategy, retailers will need to consider modernizing their IT infrastructure. Sustaining communications across multiple channels and having the ability to move data throughout multiple departments and stores requires a modern data center capable of breaking down data silos and supporting a flexible architecture. If retailers want to seamlessly provide their customers with the on-demand shopping experience they desire, they’ll need to start with the data center. 

Mobile devices for employees

COVID-19 put a spotlight on an area of experience that businesses tend to overlook – their employees. In-store employees who interact with customers provide an essential service day-in and day-out. While the focus of new retail technologies has typically been on the customer’s experience, retailers are now recognizing the need to ensure that their own employees have equally positive experiences.  

One of the ways retailers can improve employee experiences is through the adoption of digital workspace technologies and the enablement of mobile devices. Providing employees with secure, mobile devices enables them to conduct cashless transactions, provide immediate access to product information, and access paychecks, schedules and task management tools—all on their mobile device.

As employees and customers are encouraged to remain socially distant, mobile devices allow both employees and customers to engage with each other quickly and efficiently, while also keeping their distance. Retailers have been hesitant to allow employees to use personal devices but bring-your-own (BYO) devices should be embraced. BYO allows for employees to access business-critical applications directly through their personal devices and access the tools they need to proactively support customers.

Retailers don’t have to increase their operations costs by purchasing hundreds, if not thousands, of devices, instead they can invest in software that will keep employee devices secure and productive.  

Retailers can minimize risk by establishing a security posture that is capable of scaling across all devices, whether the device is a personal device or a company device. 

Tech will drive the future of retail

There’s no question the world will look different once this pandemic is behind us and the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates. But one thing that will remain is the need for retailers to modernize themselves and their offerings through emerging technologies.

Retail businesses that leverage emerging technologies like cashierless checkout options, BOPIS offerings, and digital workspace technologies, can offer more convenient, engaging and personalized experiences across the entire customer journey, all while keeping company data safe. Those who fail to adopt these technologies will find themselves unable to accommodate the growing demands of consumers and employees alike.   

Ed Durbin is global director, retail end user computing, VMware


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