Adapting to the ‘new normal’ to survive and thrive, is an ordeal that the retail sector is confronted with, in the post unlock phase.
By Deepak Bansal
The COVID-19 pandemic and its ramified implications has had a domino effect across all sectors of the economy and the retail sector is no exception. Adapting to the ‘new normal’ to survive and thrive, is an ordeal that the retail sector is confronted with, in the post unlock phase. Adding to the strain, are the uncertainties like financial stability; job security; quality of life etc., daunting the industries in the economy, as spending patterns slowed down in pace.
Nevertheless, demonstrating flexibility and stiff resilience, the retail sector has coped up well with the demanding circumstances. In response to the unprecedented times, uncertainties, identifying newer consumer patterns, the sector has revamped its operations to align with the new order of the day. As a corollary, trends are emerging that are perhaps primed to aid the sector revive back to sustainable normalcy.
Virtual is the new real: Adjusting to the demands of the pandemic, a large chunk of consumers migrated on to digital platforms and are increasingly preferring to shift the entire purchase cycle online. Driven by this shift, more and more consumer are resorting to augmented and virtual reality to shop for everything under the sun, right from fashion goods and furniture to kitchen appliances.
Contactless delivery and digital payments are now mainstream: The pandemic and measures like social distancing norms to contain its proliferation, has accelerated the transition of consumers from offline to online payments. While in the pre-COVID world, making and receiving payments digitally was a matter choice, in the post COVID world however, it has rather become an indispensability. This has brought about an attitudinal change in the customers, who now prefer making online payments for all kinds of purchases, big or small.
Self-service models picking up: With social-distancing being the primary trait of the new normal, self-serving models are fast catching up in the market. Trends such as buy-online-ship-to-store (BOSS) and buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) are gaining strong foot-holds among consumers and retail businesses alike.
Lowering acceptance for errors: As consumers are almost spoilt for choice with numerous options available online, the service standards are expected to be superlative. Today’s discerning consumers are unwilling to accept anything short of the very best. Errors like half-hearted customer service; repeated out-of-stock notices and most importantly, delayed deliveries, are not at all acceptable part of the way ahead anymore.
While the above mentioned are the top trends in the retail segment, that’s helping the sector survive and bring back its finances to a state of equilibrium; as the festive season approaches, hopes are riding high. The advent of the festive season, much like every year, is bringing with it a lot of promises and hopes, with customers contemplating to step out of their homes. Keeping this in perspective, industry players in the sector are launching a slew of solutions to attract customers and reward the brand loyalists. In the wake of the pandemic, while the online shopping momentum is expected to continue by and large, industry players have started with their festive endeavours with major emphasis on digital and everything around digital. However, these initiatives will be experimented with and rigorously scrutinised as they will serve as the building block for the future.
Leveraging Digital platforms for promotions and purchases: As brands are increasingly focussing on major digital outreach to tap their customers, experimenting with digital platforms is on the rise this festive season. These platforms will not only be used for brand and product promotions, but will also serve as point of purchases.
Activation of manufacturing and supply units: Industry stakeholders across sectors are hoping to see a rise in demand this festive season. Many are putting in the requisite efforts in streamlining their logistics, adjusting manufacturing units and supply chains to keep up with the anticipated surge in demand.
Spike in online/digital gifting: Gifting is one of the primary sales drivers during the festive season. While gift vouchers claim the maximum share of the pie, there lies opportunities in the discounted sales and promotions, where customer splurge and tend to bulk-buy gifts. In the pre-COVID world, the retailers had not fully recognised that the consumers may want to exchange gifts and there lies opportunities in that. Waking up to these possibilities, this festive season, brands are architecting better omni-channel gifting journeys, in order to facilitate seamless experiences.
Brands are also refactoring promotional schedules to give the impression of a longer festive season. Moreover, personalised promotions through better storytelling, is also picking up, to attract consumers.
In conclusion, the festive season 2020 is going to be like never before for both consumers and businesses. It is only a matter of time before we find out how this festive season pans out for everybody. However, with all these endeavours, businesses can still keep their hopes high and continue to work towards the best possible outcomes.
(The author is Director, Cantabil International. Views expressed are personal.)