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COVID-19: Role of technology in smooth resumption of retail

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COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and the subsequent prolonged lockdown has severely impacted the retail industry. The impact has surpassed all predictions and caused severe distortions to supply and demand across the world.
According to a recent report by Retailers Association of India, around 25 percent of retailers will have to infuse capital to remain and survive in the business. The market sentiment right now points to a slow and painful recovery.
As the markets have started to open, we all must check our preparedness and plan for business resumption. The planning process for any retail business to resume smoothly in the prevailing condition should include immediate measures of setting up a core team, connecting with efficient suppliers, provision of working capital and repurposing of product lines. Mid to long term steps should evaluate and focus on inventory position and liquidation strategy all the while, leveraging technology optimally.
Demand forecasting solutions backed by data and most recent trends can provide deep insights into customer demands at every store. AI can be used to convert the massive and diverse data to help in predicting customers’ needs for the near future so shops can plan their inventory accordingly.
Real-time data and information are crucial in the current situation. Access to granular level details is key to making timely business decisions, including inventory planning, store operations, sales and customer service. Data-driven insights are essential to make prudent operational decisions and demand-forecasts. Deploying retail analytics solutions will provide a 360-degree view of customer preferences across different products and services categories.
Retail solutions based on AI/ML technologies can support retailers in maximizing inventory awareness and supply chain transparency. Ensuring an agile supply chain will reduce product shortages where demand is fluctuating and is expected to remain so in the medium term. The agility of the supply chain depends on access to quick data with the help of an analytics solution.
Online shopping is helping customers to shop and pay for the purchases they make, using their device. Also, mobile technology is more relevant and essential during the current times and as we ease out of the lockdown.
People will continue to be more careful in stepping out and coming to shops, hence focus has shifted to digital marketing. Digital marketing will remain the primary channel, for creating awareness on promotions and safety procedures, and also to push in-store sales in days to come.
Omnichannel shopping experience, where one can order online and pick up from store or have it delivered would become an essential part of business strategy. The deployment of analytics systems would enable real-time tracking of inventory positions across channels.
In-store, the experience would have to adapt to the social distancing and sanitary norms. The store layouts would have to be more spacious and would have to move away from the practice of maximum stocking. Customer and employee safety would continue to be the top priorities.
Retail technology companies would have to think out of the box to adapt to the new challenges. We are some time away from reaching the “business as usual” stage, till then, the key to success would be perception, adaptability and agility.

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