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04/30/2021

The ‘Roaring 20s’ are coming – get your tech ready now

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Consumer spending is already showing signs of a post-vaccination surge, and retailers need to have the right technology to respond.

Society is in a period of immense uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite rising infection rates in many parts of the country, most experts believe that before year’s end, enough consumers will have been vaccinated to return life to at least somewhat normal.

As a result, many retail observers believe consumers will enter a “Roaring 20s” period of intense spending. While shoppers may not be purchasing bathtub gin from gangsters, the NRF says retail sales already rose dramatically in March 2021, and will increase full-year as much as 8.2% over 2020, for a total between $4.33 trillion and $4.4 trillion.

Here are three technology solutions retailers need to put in place now to ensure they can handle an expected influx of orders.  

On-demand product availability
Spending growth will likely continue following trends established over the past year, with increasing numbers of shoppers making digital purchases and then expecting on-demand fulfillment via the channel of their choice. 

On the front end, retailers need to ensure they have robust omnichannel capabilities such as home delivery, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), and curbside pickup. Supporting technologies can range from autonomous delivery robots, to proprietary mobile pickup options, to partnerships with on-demand fulfillment platforms for both delivery and pickup.

On the back end, retailers can invest in omnichannel order management solutions, or even dedicated facilities for digital order fulfillment.

Digital payment
Customers are expected to return to brick-and-mortar stores as regulations regarding occupancy, distancing and mask wearing are eased or lifted. However, they are still likely to continue following the growing trend of digital payment, which offers benefits of convenience and hygiene. According to data from FIS, U.S. cash payments dropped 29% between 2019 and 2020, and will keep plummeting in years to come.

Retailers can offer customers a variety of in-store digital payment options. These include “just walk out” stores, which replace human cashiers with automated checkout based on computer vision, product sensors and machine learning; touchless-capable payment systems; and even order and payment by text. 

Employee apps 
Many retailers offer some type of customer app, or even multiple apps aimed at shoppers. But fewer enhance the capabilities of their workers with dedicated employee apps. Retailers that want to maintain optimal operations in the face of dramatic sales growth should equip their workforce with app functionality.

In the store, employee apps can enable associates to perform tasks such as “endless aisle” inventory searches, planogram reviews, and omnichannel clienteling

On the back end, retailers can leverage employee apps to streamline workflows including training, task management, and pricing

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