Customer behaviour was already shifting before the coronavirus outbreak, but the pandemic accelerated the push towards online like no other year before it.
Along with a rapid shift in customer behaviour, the pandemic also accelerated technology adoption, seeing some retailers implement projects within a matter of days and weeks that had previously been in the pipeline for months.
Whether customers will return to the highstreet and resume their omni-channel behaviour is uncertain, but what we do know is retailers are harnessing technology to meet the customers where they are, whether that’s online, in store or a mixture of both.
As customers increasingly demand a more convenient shopping experience, retailers are looking into technologies that could help keep stores relevant in digital times.
Research from Capgemini found consumers worldwide believe automation could be used to eliminate some of the difficulties of in-store shopping such as items being out of stock.
Almost 60% of consumers also said they’d be willing to shift their purchases away from retailers not using automation towards stores utilising automation technologies as long as it meant a better customer experience – a continuation of the shift towards the more fickle consumer.
As the pandemic entered full swing, retailers started using technology to tackle some of the issues the first lockdown brought with it.
Asos started trialling the use of augmented reality (AR) technology to demonstrate garment fit before coronavirus reared its ugly head, and when social distancing rules meant models couldn’t visit its studios, the retailer rolled out its See My Fit technology to allow online shoppers to get a better idea of what a garment might look like on their particular body type.
The technology superimposes clothes onto six real-life models representing different body types to demonstrate fit.
While some retailers have struggled over the last year, people’s shift towards indoor life has been beneficial for online retailers.
In the early days of the pandemic, Ocado was forced to pull its website to cope with the volume of traffic, but bounced back by making tech hires to cater for its increased demand.
In its interim half year results in July 2020, the digital grocer said it had hired 300 additional tech employees to ensure the firm and its partners could meet increased demand while also growing its platform to “extend [its] leadership as a solutions provider for the fulfilment of online grocery”.
Working from home en-masse has forced many businesses to increasingly rely on technology to communicate and the retail sector is no different.
This year has seen many retailers, including Dune, Honest Burgers and Morrisons use technology to keep staff connected, deliver training and keep employees up to date.
Customers have spent the year getting used to visiting shops as sparingly as possible, increasing their appetite for online ordering, click-and-collect and convenience.
A large number of customers have claimed this new way of shopping may have a lasting impact on how they purchase goods going forward, with 44% of consumers saying their new habits will be staying.
In 2019, M&S and Ocado entered a deal by which M&S took a 50% share of Ocado’s UK retail business, with access to the Ocado Smart Platform, and would eventually give customers access to M&S-branded goods when ordering online from Ocado.
September 2020 saw the deal finally come to fruition as customers could begin ordering M&S goods through the Ocado online shopping platform.
While many retailers have been quickly implementing technology to cope with the pandemic, some have been utilising technology for years.
Cosmetics company Lush has a 25-year history of experimentation, most recently with technology, and during the pandemic launched the Lush Lens AR app, which allows customers to use their mobile devices to check a product’s ingredients and instructions to remove the need for packaging.
The retailer has a dedicated Tech Warriors division responsible for researching and developing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), virtual reality (VR) and AR-powered services.
The UK’s pandemic lockdown has left some organisations struggling, including charities, so retailers have been attempting to use technology to support causes.
In some cases technology has enabled retailer’s to enable digital donations, either through their point of sale (POS) systems, or through websites.
Customer behaviour was shifting long before the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the online shopping boom, so retailers have been increasingly relying on technology this year to capture customers in whichever way they want to shop.
This has ranged from using technology to make people feel safer as they venture back into stores, to pinpointing exact availability of stock so no one has to hang around in a shop too long.
It’s clear the world of physical retail will have to change if it hopes to keep up with the increasingly demanding consumer.
One thing is certain, Christmas will look different for everyone this year.
While tis the season many would normally flock to shops to pick up gifts and goodies, Christmas in 2020 is looking increasingly digital.
Research has found many consumers plan to spend less, and a majority plan to do their shopping online this festive season, leaving retailers to turn to technology to cater to customer needs.