How to secure store operations during COVID-19 – and beyond
By implementing advanced store operations technology now, retailers will receive benefits even after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
That was the take-away from a Chain Store Age webinar, “Minding the Store: Ensuring Secure Brick-and-Mortar Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond,” which analyzed how retailers can incorporate technology solutions such as store navigation, mobile checkout and traffic monitoring into their store operations strategy to ensure customers follow social distancing, occupancy limits, and other safety and hygiene regulations and recommendations during the COVID-19 outbreak. It also highlighted how these solutions can serve as valuable post-pandemic store operations tools.
The webinar featured two expert panelists – Brian Kilcourse, managing partner, RSR Research LLC and Shelley E. Kohan, CEO/founder, Shelmark Consulting Inc. Following are some valuable insights the panelists offered in the crucial areas of store navigation, mobile checkout, and traffic management.
Both panelists agreed that in light of widespread regulations limiting store hours and occupancy, retailers must use wayfinding solutions to ensure customers can find the products they want as quickly as possible.
“You need beacons and geofencing coupled with a store map,” advised Kohan. “Walmart has done a good job of geofencing all their 4,000-plus stores in the U.S.”
Kilcourse also highlighted some of the longer-term benefits of implementing wayfinding technology in stores.
“Research shows customer attitudes about browsing the store have changed,” he said. “Customers are much more direct about where they want to go. They don’t want to spend time in a 60,000-sq.-ft. box. Provide them with a store map.”
To further enhance the value of wayfinding apps, Kohan recommended including augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that would allow a shopper to scan an item’s barcode and automatically obtain additional information such as product details and customer reviews.
While Kilcourse urged retailers to roll out mobile checkout if they haven’t already, he cautioned that it will not totally replace fixed checkout.
“For some types of merchandise, like groceries, you still need someone to bag the items and bring them to the customer’s car,” he said. “You might eliminate the wrap stand at a fashion retailer.”
Kohan discussed how retailers can combine mobile checkout with omnichannel shopping offerings like buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) to further enhance the solution’s value.
“Retailers were concerned about BOPIS taking business away from the store, but due to the convenience of online pickup, a lot of retailers are seeing an uptick in frequency of store visits and also customers are spending more in the store,” said Kohan.
According to Kohan, retailers have traditionally combined real-time in-store traffic counting with analysis of historical data to plan for peaks and valleys. Now they must change that approach.
“Retailers need a real-time or near-real-time understanding of what’s happening in the store, especially with social distancing and occupancy rules,” she said. “They need to use geolocation data to educate consumers on the busiest times to help avoid crowds and smooth out peaks and valleys.”
Kilcourse agreed, saying retailers must now use heat map technology that once helped create areas of the store where customers congregate to avoid causing aggregations of customers.
Editor’s note: For an on-demand replay of the webinar, click here.