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How businesses can survive, thrive during COVID-19 with digital retail

mobile phone delivery

Retailers attempting to weather the COVID-19 storm can utilize e-commerce, delivery and mobile technologies and strategies.

Chain Store Age recently hosted a webinar, “Don’t Go Home – Go Omnichannel – Digital Retail Strategies to Survive and Thrive During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” aimed at helping retailers meet the demands of customers who are dealing with social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and the need for quick access to key household and personal items.

Sponsored by enVista, the webinar featured three expert panelists – Brian Kilcourse, managing partner, RSR Research LLC; Gaurav Pant, chief insights officer, Incisiv; and Jim Barnes, CEO, enVista. Following are some valuable insights the panelists offered in each of these vital areas.

Panelists agreed that most retailers’ supply chain systems are not currently equipped to handle the surge in online orders that has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. They warned this can lead to disappointed customers and lost sales.

“The underlying issue is that retailers must resolve inventory visibility and customer experience visibility,” said Kilcourse. 

“Brick-and-mortar and digital channels must have one cohesive demand signal,” agreed Barnes. “It’s a positioning problem.”

Pant added that retailers must also connect their e-commerce systems to emerging social platforms, such as Instagram, that are becoming increasingly important as online sales and promotional tools. 

However, panelists agreed that the fact many retailers, especially those in hard-hit grocery and convenience sectors, are still using legacy supply chain systems can actually work to their advantage. Simpler platforms can be more easily modified or replaced than more complex technology which may have been implemented in the last several years, but is still not capable of handling current volumes of e-commerce orders.

For consumers whose movement is restricted by stay-at-home orders, social distancing recommendations and stores with limited operations, delivery has become an essential means of fulfilling orders. Panelists discussed several delivery challenges retailers need to address to succeed in the current environment.

“It is important to deliver in a manner that is safe, with products that are wiped down and safe packaging,” said Pant. “You also must ensure the safety of store associates and delivery people.”

To reduce strain on internal resources, Pant suggested retailers investigate various third-party delivery options, which include on-demand platforms like Grubhub, rideshare services such as Uber, and even local taxicab companies.

Barnes said retailers should consider converting C and D grade stores to “dark stores” that strictly serve as distribution hubs to fulfill local delivery demand.

“Segment inventory for that store,” said Barnes. “You’re not competing for fluid in-store traffic. Reslot not by category, but by velocity. It’s a chance to get rid of distressed or non-productive inventory.”

Kilcourse said that since most retailers have not optimized their operations to handle “last mile” deliveries to consumer homes, technology providers can step in to help.

“There is a greenfield opportunity for logistics companies to use a lot of the new data being generated by technologies like geolocation to help make the last mile as efficient as possible,” stated Kilcourse.

Barnes recommended that retailers develop native apps to accept contactless, cashless payment in stores, using third parties for assistance as needed. He reminded the audience of a specific group of consumers who need service from these apps.
“There is a large community of unbanked consumers who need merchandise that are used to paying with cash,” he said. “You need to help them with mobile payment.”

“Mobile is the first touchpoint,” advised Pant. “Experience is critical – not commerce but content.”

Meanwhile, Kilcourse focused on mobile infrastructure. “Mobile influences customer purchase decisions in the store,” he said. “Make sure you have the right network capabilities. Many retailers have primitive in-store WiFi capabilities.”

Editor’s note: For an on-demand replay of the webinar, click here.

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