INSIGHT

Retail’s Road to Recovery

After months away from the high street, small businesses in the retail sector are beginning to reopen their physical stores. But faced with a dramatically different landscape to the one they left in March, what role could technology play in helping retailers learn to adapt and thrive once more?

1) Embrace e-commerce - It’s here to stay

For many small retailers, online shopping has been a vitally important lifeline. With all but essential shops shut since early March, consumers have gone digital, with 41% of people using online shopping much more frequently since the UK lockdown was imposed. What’s more, despite the government beginning to lift restrictions on retail, 74%1 will continue to prioritise online shopping over returning to the high street.

It’s clear that for most retailers, continuing to develop a strong online presence and optimised e-commerce journey is going to be essential to success. Fortunately, even the smallest businesses now have easy access to a whole host of tools and technologies to help them achieve this goal. Secure online payment methods like Apple Pay and Paypal remove much of the risk and legwork of safely processing transactions through a website, whilst website builders like Wix, Squarespace and Wordpress provide stylish templates and simple integrations with 3rd party apps to ensure that your digital storefront both looks incredible and provides a seamless user experience. In short, successful e-commerce platforms are no longer the sole preserve of retail giants and with the recent explosion in online shopping, there’s plenty of room for small businesses to capitalise here too.

2.) Improve your offline retail experience with digital tools

As consumers return to the high street, they’ll be looking for plenty of reassurance that it’s both safe and straightforward to visit shops again. For businesses who use tools like Google My Business and regularly post on social media channels, it’s the perfect opportunity to help customers plan their shopping trips before they even leave the house.

Online search features like Google My Business are a highly efficient way of communicating essential business information to potential customers before they even arrive at a physical store. Not only can retailers proactively update opening hours and locations, a My Business listing can provide key information about a store’s busiest times, how accessible it is, store directions and the latest reviews from other customers. Businesses that have a presence on Facebook and Twitter can also display this kind of information, with the added benefit of being able to post regular updates to their audience and communicate directly with customers. As physical stores and shops reopen, technology is likely to play an essential role in helping consumers, particularly those who are elderly or vulnerable, plan a safe and comfortable shopping experience well ahead of time.

3.) Contactless payments are becoming the norm

Contactless payments have already transformed the way small businesses manage their everyday transactions. Setting up a contactless payment system requires minimal investment in technology and creates a faster, more efficient transaction process, making it the ideal solution for small businesses operating from mobile units or pop up shops.

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, contactless payments were fast becoming the de-facto payment method on the high street, and now look set to become even more integral to the success of small businesses in the retail sector. This crisis has meant that stores are doing everything in their power to keep shoppers safe, from implementing a 2 metre minimum distance between customers to installing plexiglass shields in front of tills. Contactless payments fit the principles of social distancing perfectly, removing the need to touch card machines or physical money as part of a transaction. It’s no surprise therefore that the contactless limit on bank cards has already been raised to £452 and if you’re using Apple Pay, there isn’t even a limit applied. Contactless payments are undoubtedly here to stay, which can only be a good thing for the small businesses who rely on them.

4.) ‘Smart Tech’ and the changing retail experience

It’s clear that the Covid-19 crisis has fundamentally changed current consumer behaviour, but it remains to be seen exactly how permanent these changes are. Many of the technologies being tested out by larger retailers, from augmented reality to machine learning and AI, could conceivably become standard practice thanks to the changing priorities of consumers.

For example, several large furniture and homeware retailers have been trialling augmented reality apps to help customers decide which products would look best in their own homes, without having to visit a store to see the item first hand. Primarily designed to improve customer experience and manage expectations during the buying process, technology like this could also help consumers concerned about spending lots of time in shops still get the full retail experience at home. For small businesses and retailers, the cost of investing in technology like this is often prohibitive, but should it become standard practice amongst large companies, it’s very likely that more cost effective versions of augmented reality technology would become widely available as well.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

There’s no question that 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year so far for retailers. Unable to open their physical stores since early March, nearly all non-essential shopping has been done online, which forced many small businesses to rapidly adapt their retail models in order to survive. As shops and high streets begin to reopen, there’s still plenty of uncertainty in the sector, but thanks in part to the technology and digital tools available to them, many small retailers will hope that they can begin to provide a safe and enjoyable shopping experience for customers once more.

Sources

1. ‘New lockdown habits here to stay as ‘most plan to keep spending more frequently online’ says Visa.’ Internet Retailing, 03.06.2020. https://internetretailing.net/payment/new-lockdown-habits-here-to-stay-as-most-plan-to-keep-spending-more-frequently-online-says-visa--21498

2. ‘Limit for - contactless spending to rise to £45 at beginning of April’. The Guardian,
24.03.2020. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2020/mar/24/limit-for-contactless-spending-to-rise-to-45-at-beginning-of-april

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