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Reopening Retail Sales With a Digital Assist

Reopening Retail Sales With a Digital Assist

The role of digital retail transformation for physical storefronts is now a fundamental tool to address new challenges and no longer just a process to give customers more convenient shopping options.

Frans Van De Schootbrugge
Frans Van De Schootbrugge

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease in some areas, retailers that were forced to close their physical locations are beginning to welcome shoppers back to their storefronts. However, reopening will be far from the “business as usual” retailers knew before the crisis began. Safety and social distancing measures continue to remain in place and will likely continue. In turn, retailers will need to create in-store experiences that keep shoppers and employees safe, while accommodating increased, albeit limited, foot traffic.

Shopping habits have also changed, with consumers embracing e-commerce, delivery and curbside pickup as primary channels to meet demand – developing new preferences on how they interact with retailers. Consumer priorities amid the pandemic shifted, too. According to Barclaycard, consumer spending in the UK dropped 36.5 percent in April 2020, with apparel and specialty retailers seeing a 54 and 38 percent drop in sales year-over-year, respectively – leaving retailers facing an uphill battle as customers face continued economic uncertainty.  

Retail's New Normal

Going into 2020, many retailers were being faced with immense challenges. Then COVID-19 hit and all the “pre-existing conditions” that retailers had were exacerbated. Those that were slow to invest in digital have felt even more pain, and the grocers of the world were forced into “digital maturity” overnight. In this episode, we explore how retailers have adapted during this crisis, and we discuss what adaptations are likely here to stay.

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The role of digital retail transformation for physical storefronts is now a fundamental tool to address new challenges and no longer just a process to give customers more convenient shopping options. Here is how retailers can leverage technology to reshape in-store experience with safety, convenience and the consumer in mind:

Manage wait times with advance booking

Retailers face a balancing act as they try to maximize limited store capacity in the face of social-distancing guidelines. Large queues outside physical locations risk frustrating consumers as staff members scramble to help shoppers move through stores smoothly.

According to Frans Van De Schootbrugge, director of program management, EMEA/APAC, online booking systems can help ease the process. With mobile booking, shoppers can reserve time to shop in-store and plan their trip. Once shoppers arrive, they can eliminate wait times and check-in via mobile app or kiosk to enter. Retailers can learn from this data to understand how long consumers typically need to shop and adjust booking slots to better manage traffic flow.

“Say you start with bookings for half-hour slots or an hour slot,” Van De Schootbrugge said. “You can start looking at how customers are using the time, and optimize based on shopping habits to improve efficiency and flow of traffic.”

Mobile booking can also field “unplanned” visitors who may be in the area and want to drop by. Shoppers can use the app to notify a retailer that they’d like to come in, and retailers can send real-time alerts when there’s an opening.

Smaller retail locations or high-end stores that often require close interaction between staff and customers may especially benefit from this approach by leaving time to clean spaces between appointments. Online booking for these high-touch experiences allows retailers to continue customer conversations after the appointment so they can nurture high-value sales, promote other goods and services and build loyalty.

“For larger retailers, increasing store traffic by even one percent can have massive upside to revenue over time,” Van De Schootbrugge said.


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Increase ease and speed of in-store shopping

Big-box retailers and large grocers often operate within a low-touch model—meaning that customers do not require much time or attention from employees. Instead, shoppers typically browse products and pay quickly at a cashier point or self-checkout with minimal human interaction.

However, these experiences will change. Shoppers may feel less inclined to handle products that others may have touched, more floor space will be needed to direct traffic for social distancing and customers and staff will want more contactless payment options to minimize physical interaction. In turn, low-touch shopping will move toward “no-touch,” with technology connecting digital and physical experiences in several ways:

Contactless Payment

Future of point-of-sale (POS) systems will evolve from physical registers and toward POS actions pushed to a customer's mobile phone, reducing contact, traditional queueing and physical in-store checkout. For example, Walmart Canada’s Fast Lane program integrates scan-and-go technology within their My Walmart app, allowing customers to build shopping lists, find items in-store and check out at a dedicated kiosk all through a mobile device.

Click-and-Collect & Curbside Fulfillment

With click-and-collect, shoppers get the convenience and safety of browsing and purchasing products online, with assurance that goods will be there when they arrive in-store. It also keeps products off the shop floor while reducing last-mile costs associated with in-store picking and home delivery.

Digital Store Layouts

Digital stone layouts, or planograms, can help shoppers navigate physical stores by helping them find exactly where an item is on the floor, minimizing shopping time. According to Van De Schootbrugge, “once you understand that you have certain hotspots in store or certain areas where people spend more time, you can start looking at rearranging product to accommodate for more capacity.” By understanding individual shopper habits, retailers can add to the experience by providing personalized product information, deals, or in-app promotions based on their preferences.

Augmented Reality

For some retailers, augmented reality can create safer in-store environments that recreate physical experiences. For example, digital mirrors can give shoppers an opportunity to virtually “try on” clothing or sample makeup using a selfie – reducing risk of costly returns that stem from dissatisfying purchases. In another example, IKEA’s online planning tools give shoppers an opportunity to build their own virtual room before heading to the store, allowing consumers to feel more confident about their next purchase.

A new in-store experience

COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way people shop, giving rise to new shopping habits that may remain consistent over time. Though the pandemic presented retailers with unprecedented challenges, a holistic approach to recovery can turn into a huge opportunity to elevate sales and create safer, more convenient in-store experiences. 

-- Srinivas Devulapalli, Manading Director of EMEA, contributed to this article

Frans Van De Schootbrugge
Frans Van De Schootbrugge
Director of Program Management, EMEA/APAC

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