Blog post

Beyond COVID-19: 6 Retail Trends for the New Normal

Learn how the pandemic has changed the retail landscape and what trends to pay attention to in the post-COVID new normal

May 29, 2020

6 mins read

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to plague humanity, but the toll it is taking on societies and global economies is nothing short of unprecedented. With the number of coronavirus cases already in the millions and almost one third of the world under a quarantine lockdown, the pandemic is sending shockwaves around the globe, changing the way we live and work.

Pushed out of their normal routines, consumers are now adopting new attitudes, habits, and behaviors that, as experts predict, will endure beyond the pandemic. Work from home, digital events, Zoom fitness classes, virtual happy hours with friends, online shopping — novel forms of interaction are coming into play as social and physical distancing becomes the new normal.

And while the coronavirus challenges vary by industries and domains, retail has been on the frontline of pandemic disruption.
Beyond COVID-19: 6 Retail Trends for the New Normal
Source: Rolan Berger

Within the retail industry, the playing field is not even. Fashion and luxury retailers are hit the hardest, with an expected plunge in revenues between 25 and 35 per cent this year. At the same time, Nielsen reports an uptick in consumer demand for food products and non-food essentials as people rush to stock up their “pandemic pantries.”

Food spending growth due to coronavirus in select countries worldwide as of March 2020
Beyond COVID-19: 6 Retail Trends for the New Normal
Source: Statista

As customers are leaning more than ever towards digital channels for buying products, big online marketplaces are thriving in the crisis. Global sales on Amazon have surged to almost $11,000 a second and the giant is hiring an additional 175,000 workers to meet the spike in demand. Etsy, a global marketplace for handmade items, doubled its sales in April when the platform began pushing homemade masks.

The pandemic is causing industry-wide disruption with long-term consequences yet to be seen or understood. To survive in the post-COVID retail landscape, businesses need to think ahead and get on top of these 2020 retail trends.

Going digital

Digital transformation has long been on the radar of forward-thinking retailers that cater to the needs of digital-native customers. Now that foot traffic to physical stores has fallen off the cliff and businesses are plagued by operational difficulties, a strong online presence can make all the difference between surviving or going down.

…the internet is helping businesses continue to operate during the pandemic … 23% of businesses reported using digital ordering tools, 16% service delivery tools, and 37% digital payment tools.

State of Small Business Report

The shift to eCommerce is aptly demonstrated by soaring Shopify stocks as business owners flock to this popular online sales platform in an effort to build a digital storefront. Shopify reports a 62% increase in new stores created on the platform from March 13 to April 24 as compared to the six weeks prior. Another push into eCommerce comes from Facebook. The social media giant has just announced the launch of Shops as an easy way to turn business profiles into full-fledged online storefronts.

eCommerce was pushed into high gear by the pandemic, but the convenience of online shopping is likely to make customers stick to their new habits even in the post-COVID world. And retailers are increasingly starting to ramp up their eCommerce capabilities through data-driven analytics, AI-powered customer intelligence, and smart automation of business workflows.

Optimizing supply and logistics

The pandemic has not only disrupted the demand, it has also wreaked havoc on global supply chains. Closed manufacturing plants and production sites, quarantined workforce and mobility restrictions have strained supply networks and caused severe logistical bottlenecks.

Now that in some regions the acute phase is over and businesses are planning for recovery, the top priority is to build resilience into supply chains. For that, retailers are rebalancing their supply chains and adopting a multi-sourcing strategy to create a flexible ecosystem of suppliers and partners.

High-performing and resilient supply chains can become a key competitive differentiator for businesses. To optimize supply chains, retail leaders turn to technology, including machine learning and data-driven analytics, to help them gain end-to-end visibility, forecast demand, and improve shipping efficiency.

Resilient supply chains build competitive advantage
Beyond COVID-19: 6 Retail Trends for the New Normal
Source: Bain & Company analysis

Using AI to improve operations

Artificial intelligence continues to be the driving force behind the retail revolution. AI in the retail market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 35.9% from 2019 to 2025 and reach $15.3 billion by 2025.

In this adapt-or-die moment, retailers are counting on AI to help them improve operational efficiency, extend capabilities, speed up decision-making, and increase competitiveness. And the cutting-edge technology can do all that and more — from real-time route optimization for faster delivery to enhancing customer experiences. By ingesting, processing, and visualizing rich customer data collected across multiple touchpoints, AI-powered solutions uncover patterns and unlock deep insights that can underpin personalized recommendations and even inform product design.

The use cases for AI in retail are truly amazing (and the list is not exhaustive):

  • Location-based marketing
  • AI-powered virtual sales assistants
  • In-store visual monitoring
  • Smart product placement
  • Market trends and demand forecasting
  • Dynamic price optimization
  • Voice-based shopping

Visual search, another area of AI application in retail, is also on the rise as 62% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers — with the combined spending power estimated at nearly $3 trillion in 2020 — demand visual search capability more than any other new technology. ASOS, a global online marketplace, has rolled out its Style Match tool to enable shoppers to take pictures of the things they like and then easily search the ASOS catalog for similar items.

Automating warehouses

When it comes to effective warehouse inventory management, Amazon has already set the bar by embracing next-gen warehouse automation technology. It has more than 200,000 mobile robots across its fulfillment centers working alongside humans. This army of robots is helping the eCommerce giant to improve productivity and fulfill the promise of one-day delivery.

In addition to physical automation through the use of robots, process automation is picking up steam due to its potential to reduce inefficiencies and cut down costs. Warehouse management systems (WMS) integrate with enterprise ERPs and CRMs to automate the entire process of order management and give real-time inventory visibility.

By using IoT-enabled sensors, retailers can monitor storage conditions like temperature, pressure and humidity, and automatically adjust them to preserve the integrity of goods and products.

Leveraging mobile payments

Quick and easy payment is central to a seamless and enjoyable customer experience, and retailers are starting to integrate different payment strategies into their value propositions. With mobile payments, retailers have a lot to gain — modernized in-store experience, improved security, faster transaction time, and higher consumer satisfaction.

Payment platforms like Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, Alipay and WeChat already have millions — and some over a billion — of users each. This level of consumer confidence in mobile payments and digital wallets is making the transition easier. This level of consumer confidence in mobile payments and digital wallets is making the transition easier. Others, like Walmart, are facilitating mobile payments with their own digital wallet to improve in-store checkouts.

Beyond COVID-19: 6 Retail Trends for the New Normal
Source: Merchant Savvy

Improving security throughout the supply chain

The last (but not least) on our 2020 retail trends list is supply chain security. An integral part of supply chain management, supply chain security focuses on identifying and minimizing risks to systems, assets, and infrastructure, which could disrupt retail operations and lead to unnecessary costs.

To secure their supply networks, merchants need to go far beyond physical theft prevention and adopt a multi-layered approach that will address cybersecurity threats as well. These information security threats arise as retailers increasingly leverage software and hardware solutions to collect vital shipment data, manage logistics, and control the flow of merchandise.

Ranging from regular security audits, to vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, to cloud and network security assessment, information security measures are a must to ensure robust retail security and give business owners peace of mind.

Conclusions

The pandemic has caused chaos throughout the retail industry, pushing merchants to their limits or even out of the game. When the dust settles, what will “business as usual” look like?

In the post-pandemic world, we’ll see an increased focus on the digital-first approach to commerce and the use of data-driven retail intelligence to enhance customer experiences and boost sales. Other trends include the use of artificial intelligence and big data analytics to optimize warehousing, build resilience into supply chains, and streamline logistics operations. Retail security is also expected to be a high priority for merchants.


Ready to take advantage of these trends and get ahead of the competition? Connect with our experts to talk about digitizing your retail solution, transforming supply chain management, or any other need your business might have.

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