Social distancing forces more retailers to embrace digital transformation

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Social distancing forces more retailers to embrace digital transformation
// Retailers are rapidly embracing digital technologies to address gaps from social distancing, says GlobalData
// The need to build digital capabilities was a case of “now or never” for physical retail stores, it adds

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in retail, a new report from GlobalData suggests.

As the world scrambles to come back to normalcy under pandemic-induced social distancing guidelines, GlobalData said more and more bricks-and-mortar retailers were embracing digital technologies to bridge the physical distance and navigate the crisis.

The data and analytics firm added that with increased competition from ecommerce, reduced footfall and low consumer confidence, the need to build digital capabilities was a case of “now or never” for physical retail stores.


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“As stores began to reopen doors, retailers are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR) to offer hygiene-centric shopping experiences to customers with ‘contactless retail’ and increase their confidence to shop during the Covid-19 pandemic,” GlobalData disruptive tech analyst Venkata Naveen said.

“Tech-enabled applications like virtual queuing, footfall analytics, contactless payments, self-checkout and chatbots have suddenly seen an uptick at point-of-sale for retailers.”

GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Center highlights how various retailers around the world are using digital technologies to increase the customer footfall while meeting the safety standards.

For example, US grocery chain Kroger deployed QueVision technology to monitor customer footfall and activity inside its stores to curb the spread of the virus.

The system can count the total number of shoppers entering and exiting the store using IoT-embedded cameras.

It alerts operators when the store reaches 50 per cent of its capacity, prompting them to open additional checkout windows to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, British supermarket chain Asda launched a virtual queuing initiative, the first of its kind in the UK, which allows shoppers to register and check-in into a virtual queue on their smartphone and then wait until their turn.

Shoppers can check the waiting time and choose a store according to their convenience.

The new system has been trialed at Asda’s store in Middleton, Leeds and the retailer plans to implement across its stores in the UK.

On the other hand, Decathlon partnered with MishiPay to introduce a mobile self-checkout solution across its 81 retail stores in Germany.

Customers can scan the barcode of the products using their smartphone to get full product details along with offers or promotions and checkout with their mobile app.

Once the payment is done, the RFID security tag on the product is disabled, enabling the customer to exit the store.

Finally, Lidl in Ireland launched a WhatsApp-based chatbot to help shoppers find out the least busy time for shopping at its stores.

The retailer has developed the platform using in-house customized software to segregate waiting queues based on time and day.

Using WhatsApp, consumers can text about the time and day they expect to visit a store, wherein the chatbot uses real-time shoppers’ data gathered from various local stores of the retailer to provide an ideal time to shop.

“While the long-term social and economic impact of the pandemic on retail stores is still not clear, it has brought the industry a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and created an imminent need to build digital capabilities,” Naveen said.

“The shopping behaviors of consumers, shaped up by the implications of the pandemic, can only be met with the digital savviness of retail stores.

“Contactless retail is here to stay until a vaccine is ready and even continue to do so as the world emerges from the pandemic.”

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