As is the case for many industries, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the retail sector has been significant. Retailers, from small independent stores to large shopping malls, are feeling the combined effects of drops in footfall or temporary store closures, supply chain issues, increased competition from e-commerce sites and — most importantly, — implementing measures to keep workers and customers safe. As malls and stores begin to open gradually, their biggest challenge is to create a safe and inviting experience to entice customers back.
To face this challenge, retail businesses must seriously consider investing in digital technology and innovation. As people stay wary of stepping out too much and coming into contact with people or objects, digital technologies can help retailers create a safe, engaging and interactive experience.
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technology in the retail industry by about six years. Adoption of digital signages in the race to attract more consumers is expected to help the demand for digital signage solutions and hence the market is expected to experience a positive growth of 3.7% in 2022.
Post-pandemic we expect to see lasting changes in customer behaviour and psyche that businesses should anticipate and prepare for this change. People may remain hesitant to visit stores frequently, and when they do venture out, many are likely to feel worried about hygiene and safety. They may also feel compelled to stock up on goods in a single visit, and to show a preference for online channels as an alternative to visiting physical stores. Service automation and product delivery has evolved as well, with curbside or click-and-collect solutions rapidly changing the retail product delivery model.
The obstacle then for businesses to overcome is the pandemic-induced anxiety in visiting stores. This is where digital technology can help by not only relieving feelings of anxiety but creating a positive shopping experience and instilling a sense of trust in retail brands.
While many of the public share concerns of virus-related safety , digital signage can play a crucial role in dispelling this fear and reassuring customers of a safe shopping experience. A key function will be to communicate safety measures and procedures, as well as reminding customers what is expected of them during their visit, for employee safety as well as the safety of fellow shoppers.
To help customers maintain social distancing, digital signage can be set up to communicate guidelines and help control the flow of customers, as well as providing social distancing alerts and reminding shoppers to wear masks and use hand sanitiser. When combined with an occupancy management tool like Walkbase IntelliCount, which tracks the number of persons in a store at any one time and provides alerts when limits are reached, digital signage can also communicate occupancy limits and alert customers when they may or may not safely enter the store.
Digital signage will also come in handy for informing customers about product availability. For example, where a product is limited in store or there are otherwise difficulties accessing a product on-site, businesses with an online presence can use digital signs to direct people to their websites or e-commerce partners, helping to retain the customer online.
Pre-pandemic it was common for customers to take their time shopping and browsing at a leisurely pace. Now it is more likely they come prepared with a list of items and leave the store or mall as soon as they are finished shopping. Digital wayfinding signage can help customers get in and out more quickly, as seen in some large malls that are using digital signs to help people discover the quickest routes to their destinations. Retail businesses can also reap the benefits of wayfinding technology by using signage to display a map of the store, indicating which aisle holds what products. Customers can glance through while they wait in line outside and use the information to expedite their visit and limit time spent in store. Of course, retailers won’t be investing in technology that is no longer beneficial or solving retail challenges post-pandemic; these wayfinding solutions for retail will be beneficial to shoppers any time they are in the store or mall.
While kiosks have been making inroads in retail for several years, they will now become a necessity as retail businesses adapt to new circumstances and explore new ways to interact with customers. One of the key benefits of kiosks is that they can be moved between different locations. One idea is to set up interactive digital kiosks in different localities so that people need not travel far to benefit from brand experiences. Many retail stores are adopting interactive mobile kiosks operated by their staff across different locations as a “pop up” experience. Customers can select and order items from the kiosks, with products then dispatched from the main outlet.
Interactive kiosks placed outside stores can further support social distancing objectives and store occupancy limits, helping to control footfall inside the store. In this scenario, kiosks can serve multiple purposes: they can provide important safety information and advertise products, as well as allow customers to order items, all without having to enter the store or touch products. The contactless experience will help in providing a safe yet informative experience to customers. Specialised kiosks may also be capable of checking temperature or even dispensing items like hand sanitiser or antibacterial wipes.
As we move through this challenging new phase, retail businesses must be prepared to invest in digital technologies so they can find new ways to provide safe, reliable and engaging customer experiences. By partnering with a full solutions marketing technology provider like Scala, retailers can benefit from over 30 years of experience in digital signage solutions and customer engagement to drive growth and ensure the longevity of their businesses in the “new normal.”