This has been a tough year for retail business of all kinds. While the e-commerce giants did continue with deliveries of essentials and were able to recoup almost as soon as the COVID 19 restrictions were lifted, offline retailers still had a big issue with keeping a rolling inventory and catering to customer demand. But now, everyone is looking to wooing the customers back to the store so that sales can pick up and they can scale over the disruption that the loss of revenue over the last 8-odd months has caused their businesses. Tech giant Deloitte is out with its holiday 2020 and year-end predictions and Rodney Sides, Deloitte’s vice chairman predicts eCommerce growth to “go ballistic” this year, “somewhere around 25% and it may go higher.” So, many companies have already begun to power up more than just manpower – they have begun to focus on optimising sales, maintaining inventory and meeting delivery demands.
But even as you go about getting everything spic and span, and try to avoid hurdles such as less-than-optimal workforce, inventory miscalculations, shortage of storage space and the last-mile friction, here are a few things retailers can do to meet exacting customer demands and their ever-increasing expectations:
Plan ahead: Plan for the next six months, not the next 15 days, so that you are not caught on the backfoot. Take stock across your business – check your stores, combine inventories, check for local preferences if you have stores across different regions, possible last-mile hurdles. Being alert to consumer demand will help expectation management, and at the backend, you can speed up processes to be able to deliver error-free and in a timely manner. Control external factors by enhancing product visibility, facilitate tracking for the consumers, use technology for effective communication along the entire value chain. Planning ahead will also help you cut out unplanned operational costs such as overtime for staff, recruiting more staff to handle last-mile pressure, etc, it will also help retailers make better profits by ensuring lesser returns.
Increase buying options for the consumer: This is just the time to take the unconventional route given that buyer preferences are also changing. You need to keep your inventory moving – both online and from the shop. With footfalls reduced by almost 42%, the in-store inventory risks piling up. You can avoid this without raising your shipping costs by giving customers more purchasing options such as click and collect. In fact, Buy Online Pick Up in Store (BOPIS) is a frontrunner this festive season. According to a survey by InvespCRO, 90% retailers plan to go BOPIS by 2021, and over 60% shoppers are deciding which online store to browse based on whether they have a BOPIS option. You can also opt to ship straight from the store, arm your delivery boys with electronic swipe machines so that they can swiftly process last-minute purchases. You can bolster customer expectations by promising them same-day delivery, or set up dedicated pick-up areas. You can tailor your festive promotions to promote the products in store; plan your shop layout to enhance product visibility, and rethink your billing counter placement by displaying holiday gifting items close to it. For example, IKEA has a ‘Pickup Near You’ option – it’s a truck with deliveries that goes from parking lot to parking lot, enabling customers to choose the place and time they want to collect their purchase.
Offer a ‘safe’ shopping space: Market the fact that shoppers’ safety comes first for you. Clearly communicate the safety protocols you follow in your store and during the delivery process. With consumer surveys estimating 40-60 % customers planning a store visit, this alone would be enough to drive traffic to your stores. In fact, some stores have attracted customers by showing a real-time ‘count’ of people in the store on their website – they even have a ‘busy period schedule’ and crowd projection. This helps customers choose off-peak hours – since some stores have restrictions on the number of customers within the store premises at a given time, making many customers wait outside for entry. Take a look at brands such as FriendShip Kitchen (the first retailer in the US to be awarded Safe Shop Assured certification). Ensure your staff follow social distancing norms, are wearing mask at all times, follow sanitization mandates while handling merchandise. Contactless payment would be another plus.
Tech up: This is the time to let immersive technology drive sales, and increase your profit margins. An Accenture Report titled ‘Try it. Trust it. Buy it.’ estimates that 60% consumers will buy from brands that lets them evaluate products through technologies like augmented and virtual reality. Tech will also allow you to manage the anticipated piling up of returns by automatically updating inventory. In fact, some tech smart retailers even offer flexible return policies for online purchases, since they can track their products, thereby supplementing their last-mile/transportation capabilities to support deliveries of items weren’t sold online but were an in-person purchase. You can also do this – upgrade to a cloud-based software if you don’t already have one so that you can manage stock levels real time. Source tagging and RFID will help you track inventory. Get into the B2B eProcurement network and enhance customer segmentation by syncing your marketing and supply chain teams.
To sum it up: Modern retail is all about playing a key part in a huge supply chain ecosystem that streamlines transaction between various links within the chain, even as it aligns to the ever increasing and changing consumer demands. The key logistics here is to play the part of an enabler effectively and give the consumer just what he wants. While it’s going to be one helluva challenge for retailers to live up to consumer expectations this festive season, it also promises to be an exciting time where a little outside the box thinking can give you that extra mile in market advantage. So, if you want to be the next Amazon or Walmart, start now!