A look at some of the ways retailers can meet the needs of the post-pandemic shopper.
Since the start of COVID-19-related shutdowns in early 2020, the retail industry has experienced wave after wave of challenges. Now, the retail industry is returning — not to pre-pandemic practices — but to a new normal.
With 2023 around the corner, we asked one of Honeywell’s retail experts, Tony Boncore, for his perspective on what the industry can expect in the year ahead.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen that will impact retailers in 2023?
Boncore: In a word, consumers. They’ve changed.
Of course, consumer behavior was shifting well before the pandemic, but the widespread shutdown of brick-and-mortar stores moved online shopping from convenience to an ingrained customer behavior across many demographics.
Consumers are also more demanding. They want what they want, and they want it now, regardless of supply chain issues. If you can’t satisfy a consumer’s need today, they’ll look for a retailer who can.
I think a lot of this behavior comes from the easy access to information and options people discovered as they moved online in droves. Years ago, retailers had power over the consumer. Today, consumers have power over retailers.
The good news is that people are excited to get back out there. In many, if not most, cities and towns, 2022 holiday shoppers kept stores busy.
How can retailers adapt to this new normal?
Boncore: First, adopting a unified commerce approach is critical.
While people are returning to stores, they will continue to research and buy online at levels far higher than before the pandemic. Taking a unified commerce approach means that retailers need to meet you, the consumer, everywhere and anywhere — including stores, websites and social media channels — with consistently excellent shopping and buying experiences, as well as seamless pickup, delivery and return experiences.
Second, minimize friction. Everywhere.
On the salesfloor, that means being able to address customers’ questions or concerns on the spot. How do you do that? You need to provide shoppers and/or salespeople instant access to information. Depending on the level of customer service shoppers expect at a particular retailer, that could be by issuing employees connected devices like a smartphone or tablet, or it could be via kiosks located throughout the store.
Then, think about the checkout experience. Everywhere you shopped, you used to walk up to the cashier, and they cashed you out. Now, in so many stores, you’re expected to do it. And, of course, you’re not getting paid to do it. Talk about friction!
I believe we’ll see more stores adopting “touchless” checkout technologies, where your smartphone, your payment method, your shopping cart and artificial intelligence all connect in the cloud to eliminate the need for a physical checkout counter altogether.
What should retailers be doing to sustain or grow brick-and-mortar sales?
Boncore: Retailers need to realize that enhancing the frontline worker experience is key to a better customer experience. That means, among other things, equipping salespeople with the technology they need to deliver that great customer experience.
Today’s shoppers are better informed than ever. Many times — and virtually all the time for larger considered purchases — consumers have done their research before hitting the stores. And, of course, they were narrowly focused on what they were researching. If retail workers are going to be able to bring anything to the party, they’re going to need technology on-hand that helps them keep up with and get ahead of what customers know about a product.
Too many times to count, I’ve seen a team member on the sales floor pull out their personal smartphone to do some on-the-fly research on a customer’s behalf. Resourceful? Yes. Professional? Not so much.
Employees — just like the shoppers — want a very specific experience that they can portray to the consumer. Retailers need to recognize that their employees are shoppers, too, and therefore understand the shopping experience very well. Investing in in-store technology that mimics the personal devices workers use every day is just smart business.
What else should retailers consider when it comes to empowering their teams running stores?
Boncore: Retail associates are a primary point of contact, and they’re not yesterday’s salespeople, either. Retail floor sales used to be an entry-level position. But as wages rise, the worker profile changes a bit, as do retailers’ expectations. Technology can go a long way toward aligning everyone’s expectations and driving productivity.
Tony Boncore guides the strategic direction of Honeywell’s In-Store Connected Retail Solutions Portfolio, which improves productivity by leveraging technology for retailers across the globe. Learn more by taking a look at some of the ways retailers are adapting to changing consumer behaviors.