Stalled supply chains, a shift from store aisles to curbside lanes—there’s no question that retailers have been thrown for a loop this last year. But as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Though it might seem that the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic have upended shopping as we long knew it, the objectives haven’t changed. What is different is what retailers need to do to win the loyalty race—maintain and attract new customers—in this “new current” in 2021.
Very little about people’s retail activities look the same as they did just a year ago. For example, location matters—but not in the way it used to. High-traffic shopping locations such as indoor malls are on the decline as many consumers avoid enclosed spaces, while open-air outlet malls aren’t experiencing the same hit.
The pandemic had a profound effect on just about every aspect of how people shop. Among the shifts in retail patterns, a recent report by McKinsey noted the following trends:
- A surge in online purchasing—with a 195% increase in curbside by mid-2020
- Greater spend per cart but reduced frequency of shopping trips
- Shift to buying from stores closer to consumers’ homes
Consumers are also spending less overall, and they’re expected to keep cutting back for the foreseeable future. McKinsey predicts a 12% decrease in private consumption in the U.S., with spending not expected to rebound until 2023-24.
The frustrating state of shopping
For retailers, the ultimate objective—winning sales over competitors and increasing the value of customers’ shopping carts—is the same as it has always been. This means an ongoing focus on ensuring inventory supply visibility, creating more convenient shopping experiences, and enabling staff to better communicate expectations on delivery and customer needs.
But stores will have to meet these goals amid new and evolving challenges, including delivering on these objectives consistently across established and emerging sales channels.
So far, retailers aren’t doing so well. According to RingCentral’s recent Connected shopper and employee communications report:
- 87% of retail associates say they’re not properly equipped to connect with customers
- 58% of shoppers report longer-than-expected wait times when shopping
- 41% of shoppers report feelings of frustration when purchasing
- 18% of shoppers report feelings of anger
Successfully pivoting retail during the pandemic—and beyond
These results highlight that there is a lot of work to be done in order for retailers to win the hearts (and, more importantly, the wallets) of consumers. The answer to doing so lies at the confluence of operations and technology, including leveraging these critical tactics.
Mobile for better in-person shopping experiences
Optimizing mobile is about much more than providing optimal e-commerce experiences for shoppers making purchases from at home on their couch. Retailers can also leverage the power of mobile to improve the efficiency and convenience of in-store shopping—and even drive greater value from store visits.
For example, providing floor employees with mobile devices may be the key to preventing the dreaded scenario where a customer leaves the store without buying because the item they want is out of stock. When that happens, everyone loses: the customer is disappointed and the retailer loses a sale. But if employees have the tools to immediately order the item to be sent directly to a customer’s home, the sale is made and the customer gets what they want without having to come back another or buy from a competitor.
Streamlining workflows and improving visibility
New channels for delivering customer service and purchasing are a boon for retailers and customers alike, but only in theory. In reality, when curbside shopping or online shopping experiences are not as smooth or convenient as customers expect, retailers run the risk of creating frustrations, delays, and even lost sales.
Consider the steps involved in completing a curbside order. In an ideal world, curbside execution is a 9-step process starting with the placement of an order and ending with a delighted customer.
But disconnected workflows and poor visibility can hamper every step of the process, from a location accepting an order with insufficient inventory to fulfill it, to a customer waiting in the car because they can’t easily let the store know they’ve arrived to pick up their purchase. In order to overcome these vulnerabilities, retailers must carefully review all aspects of their service workflows and ensure that they have the right communication and collaboration tools in place to eliminate bottlenecks and seamlessly complete every action involved in fulfilling customer orders.
Sell from anywhere
Floor staff are one of a retailer’s best assets due to the firsthand knowledge they accumulate interacting with customers and products. Call center agents, on the other hand, are social media forward and can have multi-channel conversations to enable meeting the customer where they choose to engage, assisting the store associate in a unique way. Ideally, remote service delivery models would leverage all of these attributes so that customers can easily get all the information they need to make a purchase.
Cloud-based communications may enable retailers to have the best of both worlds, supporting creative, distributed service models that go beyond traditional centralized call centers—for example, routing product queries to store staff who have the access and expertise to handle such questions.
Winning the next evolution of shopping
The changes unleashed on the retail sector in 2020 will persist for some time, creating new challenges and pressures for stores. There’s never been a more critical time for retailers to revisit existing channels and processes, leveraging digital transformation to optimize service delivery.
To learn more about the critical disconnects that have opened up between customers and retailers—and what businesses can do to maintain sales and grow long-term loyalty—download the RingCentral Research Retail 2020 Connected Shopper and Employee Communications Report now.
Originally published Jan 22, 2021, updated Dec 30, 2022