Blog Series

Include the human factor in your post-pandemic technology plans

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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As retailers prepare for an increasingly technocentric “new normal” following COVID-19, they should design strategies around consumer behavior.

The phrase “new normal” is quickly replacing “omnichannel” as the preferred buzzword of retail practitioners and prognosticators. While nobody knows exactly what the “new normal” will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic passes, clearly technology will play a major role in shaping it.

As retailers prepare their technology strategies to survive and thrive in the new normal, they need to remember that meeting the needs of human customers will always be the core of retail. And human beings are quirky, fragile creatures. Here are three human factors to consider when developing technology infrastructure to carry your enterprise beyond COVID-19.

Old habits die hard
Clearly, life (and shopping) will resume with some changes once this pandemic is finally brought under control. Retailers need to select solutions that will help them meet the needs of customers who may be less inclined to gather in public places or closely interact.

But remember that humans are social by nature and often have short memories. The tragic suffering inflicted by the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 did not prevent people from crowding into basement speakeasies to consume questionable liquor when Prohibition started a year later. 

I’m not suggesting retailers turn to Al Capone for inspiration. What I am advising is to implement solutions which complement brick-and-mortar retail to make it safer, rather than eliminate physical stores altogether. This includes automatic temperature sensors, robotic scrubbers, and wayfinding beacons.

Easy does it
Building off my last human factor, retailers should also keep in mind that people tend to be a bit lazy by nature. Nobody wants to put in needless effort, especially for something like spending your hard-earned money. In addition to providing the opportunity to socially distance and minimize virus spread, omnichannel services like on-demand delivery, curbside pickup and mobile payment are convenient.

Retailers planning for a time when personal interaction is no longer a health hazard should examine their social distancing technologies and determine which ones also increase customer convenience. Shoppers will not always be worried about contracting COVID-19, but they will always be looking for ways to save time and effort.

Panic in Detroit (and everywhere)
The biggest lesson retailers should take moving forward from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the industry is part of a larger, unpredictable world. Disruptions in your business can happen at any time due to weather, political upheaval, viruses, or numerous other events. 

When disruption happens, consumers panic. This can cause unexpected surges in demand for certain products, as evidenced by dramatic increases in purchases of toilet paper and hand sanitizer during the current pandemic. While retailers cannot anticipate when a disruption will occur or what type of impulse shopping behavior it may create, they can prepare themselves by implementing flexible, responsive supply chain technology.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) platforms cannot predict every supply chain disruption, but once one occurs they can help steer logistical decisions from reactive to proactive. And technology such as RFID, mobile data capture, and computer vision can ensure that retailers have an accurate, real-time view of their inventory to minimize stockouts and delivery delays.

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