New retail industry challenges emerged without warning in 2020. The pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of business, from in-store operations and supply chain to labor and customer engagement. The depth and breadth of change required demanded that retailers respond with agility, innovation – and, in many cases, the right technology.
Review this list of six of the most formidable retail industry challenges regarding the new way customers shop and discover solutions that can help retailers address them.
1Reinventing In-Store Shopping
Retail is different than it was before the pandemic. Consumers are decidedly omnichannel, often preferring to browse, order and pay online even if they’re planning a trip to the store.
Kyle DeWitt, Vice President, Technical Services for ScanSource, points out retailers now have to do business where the customer is, not the other way around. “Whether it’s curbside pickup or delivery services, retailers now come to the customer. It doesn’t look like this will change any time soon. To stay relevant with the demand, retailers must invest in mobile technology, such as wireless payment terminals and receipt printers.”
Dawn Saquic, Sales and Marketing Manager at Touch Dynamic, agrees: “Some consumers, specifically the elderly or immunocompromised, may never feel safe walking into a retail store again,” she adds. “It’s crucial to ensure your online presence is up-to-date and that you have the right technology in place, such as rugged mobile devices, to handle delivery and curbside pickup applications.”
She adds, “Retailers can implement contactless solutions like self-service kiosks. Kiosks reduce human-to-human contact and, as long as they’re sanitized frequently and appropriately, they can help customers feel more comfortable in the store.”
2Security and Compliance
An increase in mobile technology and unattended or self-service kiosks will also create a demand for wireless infrastructure and network security. “This creates many opportunities for partners to sell into retail and grocery stores,” DeWitt says. “Stores are having to focus on making upgrades, and adding new or upgraded technology onto an existing network introduces a potential network security risk. In most cases, small business networks aren’t actively managed, and even many chain retailers and restaurants focus more on scalable, easy-to-deploy network solutions for their stores than they do a true managed security service to monitor threats actively. This creates opportunities for partners to sell more than a quick fix for the current climate. It enables them to create a better, safer customer experience by deploying fully managed network and security services that have longevity.”
Nitzan Miron, Vice President of Product Management, Application Security Services at Barracuda, reminds managed services providers (MSPs) and value-added resellers (VARs) to stress the importance of ensuring all new solutions are secure.
“The urge to ‘deploy now’ is huge when a business needs to adapt or die, but the potential damage from a data breach should have retailers thinking twice about putting new technology in production without proper security controls. Businesses may not realize that the moment they deploy, they become a target for attackers; though attackers may not target them by name, they may be found by an internet scan that finds all vulnerable sites. In addition, products like web application firewalls and API gateways, which are provided as-a-service (SaaS) by security vendors, can quickly identify and patch application issues that could result in a data breach and ensure the protection of the assets being deployed.”
Miron adds that retailers should also consider regulatory compliance to ensure that any decisions they make to respond to current retail industry challenges align with the standards they must meet.
3Moving to the Cloud to Overcome Retail Industry Challenges
Liz Fuller, Senior Director, Alliance Marketing, Citrix, explains why your clients need your help transitioning to the cloud. “To drive continuity and growth in such a volatile environment, retailers need to be more agile than ever. And this means they will need to accelerate their move to the cloud and leverage technology in new ways to support their business and customer experience,” Fuller says.
“Using digital workspace solutions, retailers can give employees working at home or in stores secure, reliable access to the applications and insights they need to serve customers across channels and deliver a consistent experience that exceeds their expectations,” Fuller says.
Miron adds that MSPs can be valuable resources for their clients’ in-house IT teams. “Going from a small website to thousands or millions of website visitors overnight can be a challenge for IT teams. The public cloud – most notably Amazon Web Services, Azure, and Google Cloud – can be used to quickly provision large amounts of infrastructure and scale infrastructure up to meet demand,” he says.
4Greater Demand for E-Commerce and Omnichannel Payments
Justin Zeigler, Director of Product, Datacap, points out that although people changed their shopping habits, they never stopped buying. “Instead, consumers adapted their buying behaviors from traditional in-person payments to online-driven alternatives,” he says. “Merchants that had omnichannel payment strategies in place were able to adapt quickly with online storefronts, mobile ordering, delivery and curbside payments.”
“Merchants that can deliver alternative payment options will make it easier for new and prospective customers to engage with their brand while those that don’t adapt will likely start to cede their customer base to more modern competition,” he says. “Of course, this translates to solution providers as well. Merchants will require manageable solutions for omnichannel engagement, and the business solution providers poised to deliver will find themselves in a position to grow at the expense of providers that are lagging behind current technology.”
5Optimizing the Supply Chain and Customer Service
Shash Anand, VP of Product Strategy, SOTI, says, “For many retailers, COVID-19 unexpectedly demonstrated the importance of managing critical supply chains and customer service using the right technology. “With a surge in online shopping and demand for faster delivery, retailers need to perform inventory checks, automate orders for high-demand stock and track orders instantly,” Anand says. “The right mobility and IoT management solution can help them stay compliant, streamline operations and eliminate the downtime of devices, all while delivering great customer service. In addition, in-store devices and IoT endpoints need to work when and how they’re supposed to, with the ability to remotely diagnose, troubleshoot and fix any tech issues, and configure new in-store devices with speed and ease.”
Anand adds, “The pandemic has proven that accurately overseeing product fulfillment and delivery on a 24/7 basis is vital to managing supply chain performance and keeping customers happy. To create powerful and transparent customer experiences, 82 percent of leaders agreed that companies must ensure a mobile-first strategy around last-mile delivery. Failure to adopt mobile technology in the supply chain can devastate retailers, especially now when speedy and trackable deliveries are a must for consumers.”
6Maintaining Visibility and Competitiveness
Zina Hassel, President of ZLH Enterprises and member of the ASCII Group, says it’s also crucial that retailers maintain visibility into their operations and markets. “Brick-and-mortar retailers are facing increasing competition from online vendors, so it is critical to know as much about foot traffic as possible. In addition, there are IT apps that provide analytics to retailers so that they have information on shoppers’ habits,” she says.
In this new era of the omnichannel shopper, ensure you’re offering the solutions that will allow retailers to meet challenges and deliver the experiences consumers demand.