In 2020, for the fifteenth time in a row, we were at NRF Retail’s Big Show, an event that has been going on in New York for over 100 years. I cannot tell you that the latest edition brought many surprises, not least because the emphasis of speakers was on the execution of trends already exhaustively discussed. Perhaps, the emergence of a new expression devised by Americans, “anywhere-channel”, deserves a highlight, as it signals a balance to the term Chinese analysts had created earlier to define the new retail: “New Business Model”. A war of nomenclatures that validates the reality of total integration of marketing, sales and distribution channels around the digital channel. We all came back home full of ideas, but without any sense of urgency.
And suddenly, everything changed!
The arrival of COVID-19 has turned the retail industry upside down and the sector is struggling to adapt to a new reality, looking for sustainable ways to keep the doors open. With quarantines decreed around the country, economic impacts are huge: thousands of jobs have been lost, thousands of stores have been shut and, all of a sudden, a huge logistics chain has become inoperative. Online sales provided a lifeline for the industry’s survival and consumers saw digital platforms becoming their only purchasing channel.
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One of the changes that are here to stay is the inclusion of digital immigrants in corporate strategies. People born before the popularization of the Internet, digital immigrants have difficulty adapting to technology. In quarantines, they have become digital users, and companies understood that digital immigrants were potential buyers. Banks are a good example, and have pioneered the creation of simple and dynamic tutorials in order to break the fear barrier to their platforms.
All retailers saw online consumer traffic grow during this period. For most retailers, online sales were underrepresented, averaging 10% of total sales, but have now become the main channel. In order to survive and invert figures in a new reality, retailers must view technology as the first point of contact with consumers: they must view “anywhere-channel” as something urgent.
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The structuring of retail in the “anywhere-channel” format is based on the principle that the consumer is the focus point of your business and, around him or her, all points of contact with your company should be centered. It doesn’t matter if your customer is in your physical store, on your e-commerce, on Instagram or on Pinterest, he is unique. And retailers must allow him or her to search, learn, buy, order and receive products and services anywhere. All points of contact must present unified, intelligent and customized communication. That is, around this concept, technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analysis and big data are mandatory prerogatives.
Retailers must be ready for a more demanding and prepared post-Covid consumer. Online shopping with in-store pick-ups (click-and-collect), a model preferred by one third of U.S. consumers, is expected to grow in Brazil. The modality requires retailers to keep impeccable inventory information, for example. Not just about the quantity of items, but precisely about color, size, pattern and models available. Not only in stores, but also in distribution centers and even aboard trucks in transit. The consumer should be able to choose: What? When? Where? How? To buy. He is sovereign in decision-making.
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It is worth mentioning that the new consumer that emerged during this period has become accustomed to shopping online safely. Therefore, secure payment, as well as more pricing options, assortment of products and offers, in addition to logistical facilities such as return and delivery of goods, will keep consumers connected, even after quarantines.
COVID-19 will be considered by future generations as a turning point in the transformation of retail: changing the behavior of consumption and the relationship model between customers and firms. The most prepared companies will emerge stronger from this crisis. Others will be either making up for losses or closing their doors. The truth is that the new model is here to stay.