Although COVID-19 is still a formidable foe, retailers are beginning to imagine a post-pandemic world, at least for their stores. That world will be heavily influenced by the habits that have become part of many people’s preferred shopping experience. Retail technologies that were off to a solid start prior to the pandemic developed at lightning speed by necessity (necessity is the mother of invention, no?). The soul of many is convenience, something shoppers won’t easily give up even when things return to “normal.” Here are a few we think are here to stay:
1. Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) took convenience to a whole new level, with shoppers able to order what they needed from the store’s website, have the order put together by a store employee, then pick it up quickly or have it delivered to their vehicle in the parking lot. The International Council of Shopping Centers estimates that more than half of adults use this “click-and-collect” option, so we don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.
2. BOPIS has also made the square footage just inside the front door prime real estate. That has been a bonanza for makers of self-service retail kiosks and point-of-sale (POS) devices as retailers seek to satisfy their customers’ desire for convenience and contactless shopping. There are freestanding floor kiosks, wall-mounted kiosks and countertop point of sale devices in sleek, upright designs, horizontal models meant to be viewed from above and more. Shoppers can pay, find out about upcoming sales, get product information, and order more items that can be delivered to them right then or pulled together for later pickup. Again, convenience that’s come to be expected.
3. Extra-step cleanliness has also become something of a habit, and technologies that provide peace of mind will stick around, too. These can be as simple as automatic dispensers for bulk foods, hand sanitizer, baby changing table covers, etc. They can also be as complex as AI-powered robotic “fetchers” that bring orders to customers without human hands involved. As for those kiosks, some touchscreens put safety first; technology overlays the actual screen with a virtual one that “hovers” above it so you don’t have to touch it at all.
4. Try-before-you-buy apps have taken off during the pandemic, too. Most are still in their infancy, but the technology, interfaces and customer experience are improving and multiplying daily. There are cosmetics apps, sunglasses apps, virtual fitting rooms and more that enable people to upload an image of themselves then experiment with all types of merchandise. The desire for a sensory-infused shopping experience won’t go away—we still like to touch, smell and taste before we buy—but the apps will provide an alternative for those who want it.
COVID-19 threw a wrench into many consumers’ shopping habits. Retail technologies rose to the occasion, opening our eyes to alternatives that put safety and convenience first—alternatives that are rapidly becoming “just the way things are done.” Welcome to the new normal.
This article was authored by Ray Ko. Ray has been creating effective visual merchandising and interior design strategies for retailers for more than 20 years. Today, he is the senior e-commerce manager for shopPOPdisplays, a leading designer and manufacturer of stock and custom acrylic product.