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 your clients and prospects are facing and responses from retail technology thought leaders on which solutions can help retailers address them.
1Reinventing In-Store Shopping
Consumers are following health safety guidance, including maintaining the recommended social distance, avoiding touching items or surfaces that others come in contact with, and minimizing time indoors with people who don’t live in your household. None of those things enable in-store shopping the way it was before coronavirus.
Kyle DeWitt, Vice President, Techincal 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 – 74 percent of consumers are not comfortable going back to ‘normal’ out-of-home activities just yet, meaning they’ll be actively looking for safety measures when deciding when and where to shop. To stay relevant with the demand, retailers must make an investment 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 make sure 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 help keep staff healthy and consumers safe with the implementation of contactless solutions like self-service kiosks. Kiosks reduce human-to-human contact and, as long as they’re sanitized frequently and appropriately, help to reduce the spread of infection.”
DeWitt says additional measures can address retail industry challenges related to consumer comfort in stores, such as using easy-to-clean keypad covers, plexiglass shields at the checkout and possibly even UV-C sanitation devices.
Jim Roddy, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA), comments, “Creating a pleasurable and memorable customer experience has always been a challenge for retailers, and the COVID crisis has made that exponentially more difficult. Many consumers are now entering stores with their top priority being keeping themselves and their families safe. To help overcome that fear, retailers need to give consumers the confidence they’re protected. One technology that can help with that is digital signage. A professional presentation in video, graphics, and text format explaining what steps the retailer is taking to keep shoppers safe will give the consumer more confidence — certainly more confidence than a handwritten note on a sheet of paper taped to a door.”
Christophe Naasz, Director of Business Development for Star Micronics, says, “Ultimately, customers are taking measures to reduce their time spent in brick-and-mortar stores. Customers are shopping online and selecting delivery or curbside pickup, making eCommerce point of sale integration crucial. Some retailers are opening their brick-and-mortar locations by appointment only. Appointment-scheduling software used by salons and spas is perfect for this new application.”
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 a lot of opportunities for partners to sell into retail and grocery stores,” DeWitt says. “Stores are having to focus on making upgrades, and the addition of a 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 actively monitor threats. 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. 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 that are being deployed.”
Miron adds that retailers should also take regulatory compliance into account 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, even those that had cloud on their tech roadmap in the future, need your help now. Brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close, then reopen with restrictions – and now face possible closures again. “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. They can also leverage solutions designed to help them manage the actions they will need to take to safely return employees and customers to stores,” 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 even 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 provision large amounts of infrastructure quickly 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 were ordered to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus, they didn’t stop buying. “Instead, consumers were forced to adapt their buying behaviors from traditional in-person payments to online-driven alternatives,” Zeigler says. “Merchants that had omnichannel payment strategies in place were able to adapt quickly with online storefronts, mobile ordering, delivery and/or curbside payments to accommodate ever-fluctuating safety mandates while the majority of those that didn’t had to simply close their doors.”
“Because consumers were forced into alternative methods to engage with their favorite retailers and restaurants, the movement into omnichannel customer engagement has and will continue to accelerate significantly,” he says. Consumers will expect conveniences, including curbside pickup, safe contactless payments and a seamless purchasing experience across mobile, online and e-commerce channels.
“Merchants that have the ability to 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 that are 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 has 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. It’s important for in-store devices and IoT endpoints 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 being able to accurately oversee product fulfillment and delivery on a 24/7 basis is vital to managing supply chain performance and keeping customers happy. In fact, in order to create powerful and transparent customer experiences, 82 percent of leaders agreed that it is critical for companies to ensure a mobile-first strategy around last-mile delivery. Failure to adopt mobile technology in the supply chain can have a devastating effect on 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 their markets during the crisis. “Brick-and-mortar retailers are facing increasing competition from online vendors, so it is critical to know as much about foot traffic as possible. There are IT apps that are providing analytics to retailers so that they have information on shoppers’ habits,” she says.
Miron comments, “Before COVID-19, it would be unthinkable that a fully in-person business like a retailer would be switching to a contactless experience within mere weeks, but the pandemic has created an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ situation where businesses must adapt quickly or die.”
He says, fortunately, there are solutions on the market that retailers can integrate, rather than developing their own.
Which solutions and services are you providing to your clients to help them overcome 2020’s retail industry challenges?