With novel coronavirus cases growing exponentially in India, the coming months present a major challenge for retail businesses. As one of the worst affected sectors, retail sector has suffered significant losses due to the pandemic.
According to the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), India’s retail sector has recorded a whopping Rs 15.5 lakh losses since the lockdown. Till now, there has not been any notable improvement so far. Besides drying revenues, retail companies in the country are also scrambling to cope with evolving customer requirements and capital crunch. Against this background, it is imperative that they adopt advanced technology to optimize their inventory, rebuild customer confidence and improve sales. Starting from the way they operate their business, to the way they acquire customers, tech-based solutions will help them adapt to the ‘new normal’ while safeguarding both their employees, contractors and customers.
In a post-COVID world, contactless entry systems will be a standard practice. Equipped with temperature screening and mask detection features, these systems will enable retailers to protect their staff, minimize human intervention and assure their customers about the in-store safety protocols. It is expected that customers will remain sceptical about visiting physical stores for the foreseeable future, and only retail outlets with a contactless entry mechanism in place will manage to regain their foot fall.
Retailers which have technology to manage people density within their premises will create the safe environment to encourage customers to come to their outlets.
Virtual Store Walkthroughs
With social distancing becoming mandatory for months to come, advanced technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will allow retail businesses to provide their customers with an in-store experience, through apps at homes. For example, virtual store walkthroughs let buyers enjoy a no-contact, hassle free shopping experience through their smartphone apps without having to be physically present at the store. Similarly, virtual trials enable customers to try out apparels and accessories virtually, there eliminating any risk of COVID transmission.
AI-based Customer Service
Many sectors have reaped the benefits of incorporating AI into their operations, and retail can also be one of its beneficiaries. With AI-based chatbots, for example, businesses can cater to their customers’ queries 24×7. These chatbots are programmed to answer repetitive queries, resolve simple issues and also make product recommendations based on the customer’s previous purchasing patterns. The instantaneous responses of AI bots make them a perfect aid for retail companies during this pandemic.
Self-Service Kiosks at Checkout Points
While self-service kiosks do not qualify as a novel solution, they are likely to play a crucial role in the retail environment to minimize human-to-human interactions. Automated self-service kiosks can also offer customers detailed information regarding the product catalogue, promotional announcements (discounts and special offers), and the payments and checkout procedure. Deployment of this technology further enables optimization of the in-store space, reduces the number of employees on the floor at any given time, and enhances the overall customer experience.
Digital Payments for a Contactless Experience
As suggested by a growing body of research, currency notes can be a carrier of coronavirus. The government and banks have also started promoting the use of digital methods of payment in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Most online retail platforms have already put a ban on COD (cash-on-delivery) to facilitate a contact-free delivery experience, and it is important that offline retailers also ask their customers to use only digital payments for making payments. This will not only limit physical contact but will also enable a faster checkout procedure.
Apart from the technologies mentioned above, there are several areas where technology can be deployed to ensure seamless operations of retail. While India’s retail industry may take months and even years to recover to its pre-COVID levels, technology will undoubtedly help retailers get back on their feet and acquire their lost customer base.