Retail Post COVID: Management & Staffing Challenges

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Retail Post COVID: Management, Staffing and Operational Challenges In The New Normal.

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended most industries and retail is certainly no exception. We’re still not through it yet, however, with vaccines already being administered to frontline and essential workers, and more coming online soon, it’s time to start thinking about retail operations management in a post COVID-19 reality that we can all agree can’t come soon enough.

A New Normal For Retail
Here’s the hard reality that retail faces. Things are not going to go back to the way they were anytime soon, if ever. We’re in for a monumental retail reset for a lot of reasons, not the least of which include a paralyzed economy; new consumer shopping behaviors with an even greater trend toward online sales; and new challenges faced by brick and mortar retails to provide engaging shopping experiences with tighter budgets and increased demand for things like home delivery, in-store pickup and other retail conveniences.

According to a recent white-paper by KPMG, three primary forces will shape the post-pandemic retail landscape:

1. Weak demand and a long recession
2. Accelerated e-commerce adoption
3. Accelerated brick and mortar retail closures

While this isn’t exactly a bed of roses, the study goes on to point out that many segments of retail, including grocery stores, big-box retailers, discount/dollar stores and drug stores, all have potential to adapt and succeed, despite a national GDP predicted by KPMG to fall between 4.9 and 5.5% for 2020.

So, what are the secrets to retail operations management going forward? How will brands and retailers weather a marketplace with fewer disposable dollars and a new-look consumer who’s more cost-conscious, safety conscious and convenience-minded than in days past?

It’s Omnichannel Sales and Omnipresent Marketing or Bust.
The coronavirus has totally disrupted how we shop for and buy just about everything. In a way, the pandemic has given the consumer even greater influence over how a company handles its retail operations management, customer engagement, and product delivery.

Don’t expect this desire to control the purchase to diminish simply because the pandemic shows signs of abating. Going forward, consumers will want to shop on their terms with little patience or loyalty for brands or retailers that don’t make the effort to shift their operations to a more customer-centric model.

Clearly, online sales have spiked during the pandemic. So have curbside delivery options, BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In Store), home delivery, and incredible contactless shopping breakthroughs featuring virtual reality, live video and other retail technologies that enable shopping without contact.

Staying competitive in a post-COVID world will absolutely require brands and retailers to unite their online and physical shopping options more cohesively than ever before. This, of course, also means implementing a slew of new retail store operations best practices, including new sales training programs, new safety protocols, staffing practices, technology integration, retail space allotment and more.

As retail emerges from this unprecedented and highly challenging period, it is going to look, feel and function dramatically different than it once did. That’s just the reality. The coming months and years are going to be pivotal ones for brands and retailers. Those not poised to rethink their operations and retool their supply chains and customer engagement methods to meet a new world halfway are going to find themselves facing an uphill battle to stay afloat, let alone grow.

Accelerate E-Commerce Operations
Omnipresence marketing is going to be key in the post-COVID retail universe. A major part of this is reimagining sales via websites. A recent online article by Total Retail is quick to point out that many brands and retailers can expect to find their brick-and-mortar locations struggling thanks to a new wave of post-pandemic engagement challenges sure to arise. However, the article also suggests that sitting on current online strategies and expecting them to deliver added sales is not going to work either.

The key for online retail is no longer going to simply be the “add to your cart” button. Instead, expect customers to go online hoping to find the kind of engaging, personal and informative shopping experiences they once enjoyed in stores.

Online stores are going to have to find ways to reimagine themselves into multi-activity entertainment and information centers. In other words, the lines between e-commerce and engagement are blurring and working together to entertain as well as entice customers into those valued conversions.

Focusing your online retail operations solely on collecting as many orders as possible is just not going to work. Brands and retailers are going to need to make online far more engaging than we’re accustomed to seeing it.

Disrupting the Brick & Mortar Space
Brick and Mortar stores have seen their dark days during the pandemic, and, as a general rule they will probably continue to experience some trying times as the new age of retail emerges.

In fact, in the same white paper cited earlier, KPMG expects by the end of 2020 the number of brick and mortar stores to close will be double what it was in 2019, which was already a sobering 9,300 stores, including big brands like Barney’s and Forever 21.

At the same time, however, there is some optimistic news. Brands and retailers willing to invest the time, energy and money to revamp their stores and experiences now have exciting new technologies at the ready. New digital engagement solutions are transforming the brick-and-mortar shopping experience into one that’s tailor made for consumers ready to get back to physical shopping, albeit quite differently, than before.

Retail 4.0 – The Ultra-Cool Digital Age Of Engagement
Retail 4.0 has been a term buzzing around the industry for quite some time. Essentially, it’s the digitization of the physical shopping experience, which extends to using digital data solutions to gain real-time insights into and control over retail operations management, staffing, inventory, merchandising, customer service and a lot more.

However, lately the digital revolution in retail is being extended to answer the customer service and engagement disruptions caused by the COVID-19 crisis, and expected to continue as retail emerges from the pandemic.

Brands and retailers are now using cutting-edge technologies, like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Live Video Chats and Broadcasts, even 3D Augmented Reality to deliver in-store experiences that are stunningly engaging, while also answering consumer concerns for safety and contactless shopping.

These digital solutions solve many of the in-store engagement challenges brands and retailers will continue to face, such as having very limited staffing on the sales floor and not enough product experts to properly meet the demands of post-COVID customers.

One such technology, called VIBA (Virtual Interactive Brand Assistant), was developed and recently launched by long-time retail pioneer, The Revenue Optimization Companies (T-ROC), in conjunction with a select group of leading technology partners.

“VIBA stands for Virtual Interactive Brand Assistant,” says Brett Beveridge, Founder and CEO of T-ROC. “Really, even prior to COVID, we began realizing there was a need for our brick and mortar retailers to find new and exciting ways to engage customers. Of course, when the pandemic happened, everything went into fast-forward. With ViBA, our clients are able to engage with customers in ways that are totally contactless and yet entirely human. Customers can talk with a Virtual Brand Ambassador named Valerie, who’s programmed to answer just about any question they might have. They can also connect with a Remote Live Agent for instant help, access on-demand content, or watch live broadcasts. We have smart totems in more than 100 configurations that we can place anywhere on the sales floor for in-store engagement, or VIBA can work with QR Codes and customers can access all the same experiences using their smartphones while they shop,” adds Beveridge.

Digital solutions, like ViBA, are going to play an invaluable role in brick and mortar retails recovery post pandemic. If predictions in the Total Retail article cited earlier in this piece are correct, physical retail will be all but unrecognizable as a deeply omnichannel retail industry emerges from the global pandemic. Introducing new digital engagement technologies, along with critical infrastructure and supply channel investments, will play significant roles in winning back the confidence of customers who have understandably grown extremely selective in their shopping choices.

Agility Will Matter More Than Ever
No one knows for sure what the future of retail and retail operations management will look like as we put the pandemic behind us, hopefully sooner than later. What we do know is that best practices and lessons learned during the pandemic are going to lead to a very different new normal for brands and retailers, selling in both the online universe and the physical space. Being agile is going to be crucial in order to adapt to market conditions that are sure to be fluid. Adapting fast, identifying new opportunities, changing strategies rapidly, and finding new ways to engage customers are all going to be a part of a new retail industry. One more reason the speed and flexibility of emerging retail technologies are going to be big advantages for brands and retailers who are the early adopters.

Takeaways
Retail is reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. A long economic recovery and an expected recession will surely cause disposable income to be down for many families. Additionally, safety and convenience concerns that changed behaviors during the pandemic will likely still be top-of-mind among consumers. As a result, brands and retailers can expect a strikingly new normal. Being ready means taking steps now – particularly in creating effective omnichannel ways to engage customers. This is will be critical to sales and success going forward.

If you found this post helpful, you can learn more about retail operations management at www.trocglobal.com. Also be sure to check out our other retail-driven blogs at https://trocglobal.com/blog.

TROC is the leading provider of premier staffing outsource, software, managed technology services, and consumer insights for the top global brands, retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and distributors. The company’s distinctive solutions address the entire lifecycle of brick and mortar brand and retail operations by combining retail expertise, best practices, and technology to help its customers achieve sales and operational excellence as well as a sustainable competitive advantage. As a Retail 4.0 thought leader, T-ROC enables companies with high-value products in the physical world to thrive through the digitalization of the physical shopping experience. To learn more about T-ROC, visit www.trocglobal.com.