Over the next few weeks, the UK will take its first steps towards emerging from lockdown. Like many other sectors, retail has been hit hard, with the majority of high street outlets forced to close for a significant period. For many consumers, this has necessitated an increased reliance on online shopping. For retail sales technology expert Conversity, retaining this focus on online is key even after physical stores reopen, given the impact social distancing measures are likely to have on store footfall and the level of personalised service sales advisors can provide.
While the reopening of high street stores will be welcomed by many, it is important to note that the consumer dynamic has undergone a rapid evolution in recent weeks. Millions have embraced online shopping, with lots of these being new converts who previously had made most of their purchases in-store. Older shoppers, for example, spent almost double the amount on groceries online in April than they did in the same month last year.
For Sarah Cameron, director of customer experience at Conversity, the challenge now is to attain the right blend between the online channel and an in-store channel that will take some time to fully recover.
Cameron said: “The companies that have been most successful in recent weeks are the ones that have made a concerted effort to reassure customers and make their lives easier when shopping online. This has come in many forms, including a shift to contactless deliveries or a scaling up of personalised support. Communication has been king in all of this: essentially, understanding the human needs of consumers is what has made the difference.
“When physical stores reopen, there will inevitably be a range of measures in place to ensure social distancing, such as limiting the number of customers in a shop at any one time, and reducing face-to-face contact between customers and staff. With this in mind, footfall will be much lower than pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future, and staff will have new responsibilities alongside assisting customers, such as queue management or administering click-and-collect orders in a safe manner.
“All of this means that retailers and brands will need to continue working hard to provide a high quality of online service, and ensure that the customer experience across channels is as seamless as possible as restrictions are gradually lifted.”
For Cameron, technology will be crucial in helping organisations to achieve this seamless transition between online and in-store, and in ensuring online remains a powerful driver of revenue while in-store makes its slow recovery. It can be applied in many ways, but should always have each customer’s individual needs in mind.
She added: “Retailers and brands should be taking steps right now to ensure that the personalised, human service and advice that staff provide in-store is replicated as best as possible in the online environment. This is where services such as intelligent guided selling will really come to the fore, as they can provide the information that each customer needs, while preventing the in-store channel from becoming overwhelmed. These technologies can also be applied across both online and in-store channels, meaning they have an essential role to play in building a seamless omni-channel experience.”
Cameron concluded: “Many retailers and brands have done a great job so far in going the extra mile for consumers online, and committing themselves to maintaining some semblance of normality in people’s lives. It’s important that they sustain this momentum, as this emphasis on online won’t be shifting away any time soon.”