There’s a common misconception around the use of technology in the workforce: Many fear its potential to steal jobs away from people. But if the pandemic has taught businesses and leaders one thing over the course of the past year, it’s that technology is not a hindrance or enemy — it’s the backbone of maintaining supply and demand.
Consumer habits and behaviors are no longer the same as they were just two years ago. Retail customers were navigating to e-commerce before the world shut down, and now an estimated 50% of shoppers are expected to continue making purchases online. Consumers have taken an online, technologically enhanced approach — and retailers must do the same to meet expectations.
Starting in the Store
Technology helps streamline every process in the retail supply chain — from ordering to delivery and fulfillment. Starting at the base level — directly with the retailer itself and their associates — builds the foundation for successful technology utilization that will carry the remaining processes forward.
We’ve seen technology like contactless payment options make a huge splash, providing customers more convenience when making purchases in store. Strategies like this will continue to be key as part of their overall approach, but meeting customers directly on e-commerce channels is critical to maintain engagement and support them along the entire journey. Services like live streaming and one-to-one video chat technology are leading the way in getting shoppers connected at their initial point of interaction. With a simple click, they can connect to a livestream event or speak with an associate to find out more about specific products and ask questions.
Utilizing these services does not just simplify the consumer journey, however — it trickles down even further into supply chain management. Engaging in a virtual chat session can help lessen customer frustrations, allowing associates to offer real-time updates on product availability or shipment delays on popular items. It also can be deployed for retailers to open up Dark Stores — physical hubs or studios used solely for e-commerce purposes to engage consumers through dedicated staff in a studio/showroom. Retailers can repurpose their closed storefronts or opt for additional warehouse space in lower cost locations other than the high street/prime retail where they can operate their fulfillment centers, as well as continue customer interaction with live video. Deploying these fulfillment centers in conjunction with the use of video technology will help speed delivery times and streamline processes to reduce the stress on various other fulfillment centers.
Video technology platforms also can be a source for valuable data to help both retailers and their supply chain partners maximize customer experience and dramatically increase customer satisfaction, NPS and customer loyalty. Knowing and understanding engagement volumes around peak times of day, days of the week and seasonal shopping can help retailers better prepare themselves, their logistics partners and other suppliers for shifts in customer demand.
In addition to using video technology at the source, other technological enhancements are optimizing all retail e-commerce processes. Retail technology investment increased drastically in 2020 and is projected to continue on that path, even as we inch closer to normalcy. The biggest hurdles for retailers and their customers over the course of the pandemic were fulfillment and delivery, with unprecedented shipping delays leading to increased frustration. Using tools like artificial intelligence can help retailers create better fulfillment models to compensate when demand is higher and provide more flexibility.
AI helps provide better data integration, giving organizations a clearer look at the bigger picture. Many leaders are looking to better understand their logistics and supply chain processes to make more informed decisions for the future and achieve greater visibility throughout. Logistics providers are developing these technologies to offer collaborative tools to better serve customers.
In addition, capabilities like machine learning smooth the logistics process for better delivery, and fulfillment technologies accelerate what retailers can provide. With the popularity of curbside and buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), fulfillment technology is needed to satisfy these options and meet customer expectations. By leveraging technologies and utilizing data to lead the way, retailers and their partners can optimize and enhance their supply chain to better meet the demands of today’s customer.
The market will continue to change, especially as we navigate health and safety precautions throughout the end of the year. But with the holiday shopping season drawing closer, retailers need to be ready for a rise in e-commerce sales — possibly even more so than in 2020 — and have the technology to help them flourish.
Andre Hordagoda is co-founder and co-CEO of Go Instore, an AI augmented reality, live video platform.
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