Blog Series

Surviving the ‘new abnormal’ with leading-edge technology

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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2020 has been a year like no other, but retailers can maintain “normal” operations by deploying the right solutions.

While many experts are focused on the “new normal” expected to develop as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, I would like to focus on the “new abnormal” retailers currently face. It is uncertain how (or if) the COVID-19 virus will spread as states begin various stages of reopening, and civil unrest has become a new, unpredictable factor. 

Here are three leading-edge technologies that can help your enterprise survive, and even thrive these uniquely challenging times.

Mobile apps
Both customers and employees face uncertainty about when or if stores will be open, whether in-store shopping and/or BOPIS and curbside pickup are available, and what type of delivery services are offered. All of these factors can change by week or even day, depending on situations such as COVID-19 infection rates and civil unrest.

The best way to quickly distribute information and adapt to changing shopping circumstances is via mobile app. A robust employee app enables retailers to effectively inform large numbers of employees of situational changes to their jobs, in real-time. 

Meanwhile, customer apps allow retailers to notify customers of real-time issues. In addition, shoppers can use apps to browse available inventory, as well as make and pay for selections. This permits customers to still have access to merchandise if brick-and-mortar stores suddenly need to close, as well as have the option to pick items up or have them delivered by whatever means are feasible given current circumstances.

Autonomous delivery
The demand for delivery has surged as a result of COVID-19. Civil unrest can also make visiting a store unsafe or force store closures, which will likely ratchet up delivery demand even further.

However, retailers may already be facing shortages of drivers. Possible further pandemic outbreaks or public turmoil could also limit the availability of drivers, just as the need for delivery is reaching all-time highs. 

An increasing number of retailers are piloting autonomous delivery vehicles, such as self-driving automobiles and self-piloting drones. Autonomous delivery technology offers even further potential ROI for retailers who want to continue serving the needs of customers even as they face potential shortages of human drivers or situations where a driver might risk personal harm.

Flexible supply chain
Mobile apps and autonomous delivery vehicles can serve as crucial front-end tools that enable retailers to continue serving customers as normally as possible during abnormal events. But without a solid back-end foundation, these solutions will leave retailers unable to fulfill the orders they are saving.

That’s where flexible supply chain systems come in. In the current unpredictable environment, retailers must be able to responsively pivot their supply chains in close to real time as events require. If a damaged location can no longer serve as a “dark store” to support local delivery, retailers need to be able to accurately track needed products at other nearby stores and warehouses. Stores may have to quickly be stood up for curbside and BOPIS depending on shifting COVID-19 guidelines.

Retailers need to implement cloud-based supply chain solutions they can easily scale and customize according to needs that may literally change day to day. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities help ensure supply chains can react with maximum efficiency to situations that simply cannot be predicted. Technologies such as computer vision and RFID enable the item-level inventory transparency that is necessary to achieve normalcy in decidedly abnormal social and business environment.

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