3 Big Moves Retailers Must Make to Keep Up With the ‘Big-Box Boom’
By Mark Delaney
The pandemic reset the retail experience in many ways, with the maturation of e-commerce perhaps the most obvious. But the hard-core social distancing movement of 2020 gave rise to one-stop shopping. As a result, big-box brands saw sales skyrocket to record levels, with many hitting triple-digit revenue growth. This lift, though sustained for several quarters, was fully expected to subside once fashion retailers, boutiques and specialty stores reopened. But pandemic shopping behaviors seem to be sticking.
People still want to one-stop shop, and click-and-collect options remain popular. However, more consumers are now willing to go inside stores – assuming they offer some degree of experiential merchandising.
This means retailers will once again have to reboot processes and redesign operations – and they know it. In Zebra Technologies’ 14th Annual Global Shopper Study, decision-makers are looking to blend in-store and online channels to better accommodate the “on demand” shopper mindset.
So, how do they make that happen?
Create More Space (Without More Square Footage)
One-third of retailers surveyed confirm they’re currently converting store space into dedicated areas for order pickups and returns. But this is something all retailers should be doing right now.
Almost eight in 10 shoppers prefer retailers that offer easy returns, yet associates and decision makers say it’s getting harder to handle online returns in the store.
Unfortunately, pickups aren’t going much smoother either, according to associates. With click-and-collect options helping to drive consumer preference for retailers – and three-quarters of shoppers saying they must be able to get in and out of stores quickly – it’s time to tear down some walls, or perhaps put some up. Installing pickup lockers and mobile workstations to manage returns can help improve traffic flow and associates’ workflows.
Close Technology Gaps
With the imbalance between labor and consumer demand, retailers must augment and automate processes where they can. Radio frequency identification (RFID) readers can help track inventory through supply chains and stores, while electronic shelf labels can enable back-office staff to manage front-of-store item pricing. Both prescriptive analytics and intelligent automation solutions can help monitor for store issues and alert associates to those requiring immediate attention. Kiosks and other self-service technologies can give shoppers more independence in managing pickups, returns, and in-store ordering of out-of-stock items.
Revamp Warehouse Strategies
Inventory planning tools that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning can help with replenishment and safety stock decisions. And workforce management software can ensure warehouse labor schedules are properly aligned with both store and online order fulfillment demands.
Customer loyalty is harder to earn and easier to lose these days, so it’s important to refine the operational capabilities teams scrambled to stand up in 2021. You might be surprised to learn technologies once deemed too complex or expensive are among the easiest and most affordable to implement – and the ones that will instantly improve store and supply chain execution, making the retail experience more elegant and frictionless for shoppers.