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12/14/2020

Adapting to thrive: Retailers that focus on innovation will succeed

Over the course of the last 50 years, the retail industry has undergone its fair share of disruption. From the advent of e-commerce in the 1990s to the modern-
day ability to make a purchase with one tap from your mobile device, the industry has evolved, remaining agile when responding to significant eras of disruption by way of innovation.

We now navigate the newest era of disruption, as the global COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about how we as humans work, live and consume. What was true on Feb. 1, 2020, has changed dramatically, and likely forever. 

Various health measures and guidelines have been implemented and enforced amid the pandemic to ensure the health and safety of consumers. Social distancing protocols, limitations on the number of customers and time spent within a store, heightened sanitization processes, and store redesigns all have altered the in-person shopping experience drastically. 

The winning shopping experience today and for the foreseeable future is one that prioritizes a customer’s ability to get in and out of a store in the safest, most hygienic way possible — all the while creating a positive, uplifting and tailored experience while a customer shops, so they know they can entrust their loyalty in the store for future visits. 

Yet, many brick-and-mortar retailers are still committed to innovating and ensuring they provide their customers with an experience they can’t get anywhere else. The nature of brick-and-mortar retail trips today is drastically different, and while retailers have capitalized on and must continue to leverage their essential status, consumers’ expectations for an interactive in-store experience have shifted. Consumer behavior will be different, but the stores themselves must change their behavior as well to not only survive, but thrive in the COVID-19 era.

In-store shoppers now are list-driven, making fewer, quicker trips to get what they need. This evolved consumer mindset stresses high-margin impulse sales that are vital to stores. Not only must stores ensure items are in stock, but they must also effectively position and cross-merchandise to preserve nonfood item sales that drive profit margins.

More important now than ever is a commitment to customer and employee health and safety, and brick-and-mortar retail must focus on hygiene, cleanliness and personalization across the entire store. The winning shopping experience today and for the foreseeable future is one that prioritizes a customer’s ability to get in and out of a store in the safest, most hygienic way possible — all the while creating a positive, uplifting and tailored experience while a customer shops, so they know they can entrust their loyalty in the store for future visits. 

Already in the midst of a digital transformation prior to COVID-19, retail e-commerce and in-store technology are no longer options, but expectations. Thanks to the introduction of innovations like touchless and mobile payments, QR codes, virtual queuing, click-and-collect, and e-commerce options to buy online, pick up in store, or BOPIS, these alternative methods of retailing are now heavily relied upon and will become the new norm as we become increasingly aware of potential health risks. 

Online grocery sales have surged, and consumer shifts are now a habit. Retailers must continue to quickly scale their digital capabilities in order to meet the consumer’s needs in real time. This includes focusing on technology solutions to enhance the shopper experience, such as building out mobile checkout, BOPIS and delivery offerings.

Throughout its existence, the retail industry has repeatedly proven its resiliency, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only the latest era in a history of disruption. If anything is certain, it’s that retail will continue to demonstrate its ability to adapt, innovate and evolve alongside its consumers.

Patrick Spear is president and CEO of GMDC|Retail Tomorrow.

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