A retail landscape that is rapidly changing

Bill Thorne, executive director of National Retail Federation Foundation, and senior vice president of communications and public affairs at NRF, outlines the challenges and opportunities facing retailers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 21 December 2020
A retail landscape that is rapidly changing

What are the main challenges retailers have faced since the start of the crisis?
The pandemic has presented many new challenges for retailers, but there have been both winners and losers. Retailers that were deemed essential implemented new protocols and procedures to successfully keep their teams and customers safe, while continuing to offer the same products and services, and operate their stores, fulfilment and distribution centres and supply chains. However, for non-essential retailers that were forced to close temporarily, the main challenge has been to remain solvent. NRF is helping retailers to access the information and resources needed to protect workers and customers, keep businesses safely open and continue to grow the economy.

Which tools and technologies have helped retailers to quickly adapt to the ‘new normal’?
The pandemic has forced retailers to move aggressively into the future and implement new technologies and innovations in a matter of weeks, rather than years. Now they offer mobile apps for in-store wayfinding and augmented reality tools to allow customers to quickly search products and identify their exact locations in store. In addition, many retailers offer ‘buy online, pick-up in store’ (BOPIS) or kerbside collection options so that customers can pay and checkout with minimal or no contact. 

What can retailers do to ensure they provide safe and enjoyable shopping experiences? 
The safety and security of employees and customers is the top priority for retailers. Earlier this year, NRF convened more than 400 discussions with retail leaders through Operation Open Doors, a new initiative that provides guidelines and resources to help retailers navigate reopening and operating in the ‘new normal’. Resources cover topics such as supply chain best practices, liability issues and appropriate cleaning and social distancing measures.

How will the pandemic change the types of shopping experiences customers expect retailers to offer in the long term? 
Covid-19 has accelerated the trends we’ve seen over the past few years as retailers reimagine the customer experience, blending online and offline channels. Customers were embracing these changes even before the crisis – adoption of BOPIS, for example, has grown over four times since 2014. The pandemic has disrupted consumer purchase behaviour across all generations, most notably among those aged 55-74, and now many retailers are emphasising e-commerce offerings and delivery options to safely meet customers’ needs. 

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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