Three solutions to inoculate retail operations against COVID-19

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Three solutions to inoculate retail operations against COVID-19

By Dan Berthiaume - 03/13/2020
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Retailers can apply advanced technology to manage customer concerns and supply chain uncertainties related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Now that the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic, retailers need to prepare for an industry landscape that may look different for several months. Customers are shopping differently and products are not always reaching warehouses and shelves as smoothly as expected.

Fortunately, advanced technology solutions that have already become popular among retailers can significantly diminish the potential impact the virus may have on your enterprise. Here are three suggestions.

Mobile shopping
The need for brick-and-mortar stores has not gone away as a result of coronavirus. However, customers may be looking for ways to enjoy the immediate, tactile product access offered by the store environment while minimizing the need for physical contact.

Self-checkout terminals and interactive kiosks still require shoppers to physically touch highly-trafficked surfaces. Retailer-provided devices, even if they are transparently wiped down after each use, may still provide consternation for some shoppers. 

However, mobile shopping apps that let customers scan, bag and pay for their own purchases using their own devices, without need for associate interaction, should hold even more appeal for customers in this sensitive time. Whether customers scan a code on their phone to confirm payment or use the cashierless, “grab and go” payment model, mobile shopping is truly a technology for current times.

On-demand delivery
Another valuable omnichannel option retailers can offer customers who may have concerns over the coronavirus is on-demand delivery for digital purchases. Retailers serving shorter-term consumer needs, such as groceries, takeout food, and medication, should especially consider providing or ramping up on-demand delivery services in the current climate.

For retailers who need to quickly launch or scale up on-demand delivery, a wide variety of third-party platforms are available. Retailers with a larger IT budget should also look at the feasibility of offering driverless delivery via methods such as self-driving vehicles or autonomous drones (i.e., CVS’ successful pilot of drone-based prescription delivery).

Furthermore, retailers should look into providing on-demand delivery services that do not require a customer to directly interact with a driver, such as Instacart’s recently expanded “leave at my door” delivery option.

Supply chain transparency
With 40% of respondents to a recent NRF survey saying they are seeing disruptions to their supply chains from the virus and another 26% expecting to see disruptions as the situation continues, retailers also have to look at technologies and strategies that can mitigate COVID-19’s impact on their back end.

Technologies including RFID, blockchain, computer vision, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) can all help retailers maximize inventory awareness and supply chain transparency. Eliminating waste and error from the supply chain will reduce the likelihood that late or missed shipments will cause product shortages. 

In addition, third-party freight brokerage and transportation marketplace platforms are available to help retailers obtain support for completing shipments that may be otherwise disrupted or delayed due to coronavirus-related issues.
 

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