Brick-and-mortar retail had already been in the middle of an evolution as it scrambled to create ways for customer acquisition and retention against online competition. Now, in the wake of global COVID-19 shutdowns, many in retail are scratching their heads as to how this shakeup will impact their operations both in the near term and in the future.
First, it must be said that the way retail functions has been affected greatly and will continue to change, there is absolutely no way around it. Stores must reconfigure for flow and access; employee behavior requires a shift, including any interactions with customers; and retail must implement new technologies and policies to protect both customers and employees. Customer behavior is likely forever changed as well. They will seek less contact with employees and may even specifically plan shopping trips to spend as little time in the physical store as possible. Companies across the globe are experimenting with ways to embrace this new world and still provide a positive customer experience.
Technology allows for multiple ways to support the changed customer behavior and can help provide answers for what to do next. Recent advances in hardware and software technology behind imaging and barcode scanning have made it possible for retailers to offer their customers alternative ways of in-store shopping, with some providing a social experience at the same time.
Such technologies have paved the way for a wide variety of concepts and models that many retailers are investing in and adopting, such as:
- Click-and-collect or Buy Online Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS)
Click and collect is a mixed model between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar. Customers go to the store website first to select items to purchase and then travel to the store in person to pick up the items. Employees collect the items from inventory and deliver them to the customer curbside. This approach serves to streamline the processes so customers still do their shopping locally, but don’t actually set foot inside the store. To collect their purchase, the customer receives a confirmation with a barcode on it, goes to the store where an employee scans the customer’s barcode to verify a match. A side benefit is that click-and-collect can save customers time, particularly when they have a long shopping list—employees can navigate large spaces such as a supermarket quickly and efficiently and deliver the items at a pre-arranged time.
Most supermarket chains have self-checkout options for customer convenience. Customers simply scan their items at the designated spot, bag them, and pay for their purchase before exiting the store. This eliminates close interaction between customers and employees, providing a more robust form of social distancing.
- App-Enabled Personal Shopping
While self-scanning is an evolution that has taken hold, retailers have the option to take that concept even further and drastically scale down, or even eliminate the equipment in the check-out area by employing end-user BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) technology. Instead of shop-owned hardware such as scanners, cash registers, conveyer belts and other gear at checkout, with end-user BOYD, customers download a barcode scanning app to their smartphones. A customer simply points the camera on their phone at an item’s barcode before placing it in their basket. When finished, they pay for all the items on their phone with a registered credit or debit card and leave the store with their purchases.
- App-Enabled Personal shopping with Supervisor Checkout
For retailers who want to maintain a more personal relationship with customers, supervised checkout is an option. The customer still scans all their items before placing them in the basket, but will still be greeted at checkout (from a safe distance) by an employee who can answer any questions and check their baskets to ensure the customer didn’t miss scanning any items. The customer then pays for their purchases with the payment method of their choice (cash, card or SMS payment) before exiting the store.
- Fully Automated Unmanned Store
In the U.S., Amazon is leading the charge of fully automated, no checkout, “Just Walk Out” shopping. This concept is fueled by hundreds of different cameras, motion sensors, and weight sensors on shelves that track, analyze, and record every moment of the shopper’s experience to monitor and confirm purchases. Upon entering a store, the customer scans their phone with associated payment information on a turnstile. The customer takes what they want and leaves, all checkout steps are automated.
Being hit hard by the wave of COVID-19 many retailers adopted new technologies and practices much sooner than they otherwise would have. German startup, snabble, recently implemented a mobile self-scanning and self-checkout system with IKEA in Eurpoe.
Sebastian Mancke, CEO of snabble said, “In the last several weeks, the way we live has changed dramatically. It has never been more essential to provide customers with options to checkout safely, and at the same time protect your employees. That’s why more and more retailers are getting in touch with us to offer mobile self-checkout with snabble. Our customer-centric solution offers a direct payment in the app, so cashiers don’t have to touch the customer’s goods or money. Customers can also pay at our very own SCO (Self Check Out)– all with one simple integration. This combination of our app and SCO also allows unmanned 24/7 stores, which we are already implementing with a European retailer.”
For the past several years, brick-and-mortar retail has been in a battle against e-commerce. Now, in the wake of COVID-19, many are discovering that by aligning new technologies and strategies, with the wants and needs of the “new normal” that there may just be—even in the midst of tragedy—a way forward.
About the Author
Sal Giani is Head of Corporate Marketing of Code Corporation. For more than 20 years, Code has been an industry pioneer, leader, and champion for data capture innovation and has garnered more than 100 patents. By crafting and continuing to perfect its unique decoding algorithms, Code’s image-based scanning and decoding technology consistently delivers unparalleled performance that companies around the world depend on every day. Code designs and manufactures a complete line of market-leading hardware and software data capture solutions. For more information, please visit www.codecorp.com.
See also: Re-Imagining Retail in the COVID-19