When the pandemic began, we saw so many changes to ‘normal’ that ‘normal’ meant expecting change. Even running out of coffee became an entirely new experience.

Shopping – if the shop is open – has meant a 45-minute queue, and often we’ve been greeted with empty shelves. Online shopping has been a similar gamble, with websites crashing and home delivery booked up weeks in advance.

Soon enough we realised this wasn’t a sustainable approach. So, we adapted. We’ve joined new online retail sites and ordered in advance. For some, this was the first time they’d signed up to digital and mobile services because there were no other options.

Consumers changed, but many retailers did not. Those without an online presence found trading had stopped overnight and they had no other means to reach out to their customers when the doors were forced to shut. This has not been a temporary phenomenon. The retail industry was already changing, the virus is only accelerating it.

Over the next six months to a year, we will see dramatic shifts in consumer retail habits. As consumers loosen their pursestring and increase their spending again, retailers have a prime opportunity to forge the way and demonstrate innovation that will entice customers back.

Here are three ways retail will change forever:

1.Online shopping will continue to grow, doubling over the next 12-18 months, as people continue to focus on safety.

Those retailers without a strong presence online will not survive.

Retailers will invest strategically in online and omnichannel to build capacity and benefit from economies of scale. They will overhaul and adopt more efficient processes and facilitate real-time responses, enabling supply chains to build capacity and grow market share.

They will also want to find a way to make online profitable. Take grocery as an example, the average online order is about £80, but it costs the retailer £5 to pick the items and about £8 to deliver. Asking customers to pay for shipment will only turn them away, but offering free delivery service is not a sustainable model for the long term, certainly not for the small to medium size businesses that are already struggling to stay afloat.

2. Stores will rely on technologies to deal with social distancing.

Reducing shoppers’ anxiety and risk will go alongside brand affiliation, as customers seek the safest possible shopping experience.

Retailers will adopt automated technology and occupancy control systems to limit the number of people in store. To help manage product availability in-store and online, retailers will increase the use of the Internet of Things and real-time store monitoring to increase business visibility.

With more people now shopping online, consumers can expect more retailers to add immersive and mixed reality platforms such as virtual reality to voice assistants to aid shopping from home. As for delivery, we may start to see more drones and robots being used in warehouses and on the road, to reduce the need for person to person contact – protecting both workers and customers.

3. Planning for the next crisis will be a top priority.

Against a background of economic downturn, retailers will do everything it can to minimise the impact of future peaks – or indeed any other events.

One way to achieve this goal, is to have better connection between on-shelf demand signals and orders to limit shortages of some key grocery items. Retailers can also use ecosystems to help provide elasticity of resources to meet demands.

Like everything in life, there is a silver lining.

This pandemic could well galvanise the retail industry and create a burst of innovation like never before. Digital transformation was already underway, and we have a new opportunity to reinvent the retail experience. Those retailers willing to go one step further will uncover new services and process in a truly connected world.

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