Retail Sector Transforming for a Digital 'New Normal'

Khushnud Khan, Co- Founder & CEO, Arzooo.comAn ex-Flipkart and Tata Sky professional, Khushnud co-founded along with Rishi Raj Rathore in 2018.

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, most of the industries have been immensely impacted, some with the self-regulated indoor living and some with enforced lockdowns. Retail industry too has been affected significantly with some sign of recovery now. July onward retail seems to be moving towards recovery with the retail community adapting to the new normal.

With all the disruption, the new normal is an opportunity to make things right and adopt the technology to drive business for fragmented, family run retail businesses. While some have realized the power of technology and are eventually heading towards digital adoption to drive business, a large number of retail participants still need hand holding and education in this transformation.

While the first half of 2020 marks a gloom, the second half of the year marks a renaissance for retail businesses all over the world. The sector is bound to witness transformation in the way it acquires customers, communicates, and serves them.

Omnichannel: The New Essential
There was a time when omnichannel was one of the most trending terms; however, in the new normal era, it has certainly become a crucial part of every business. Existing on digital or social media will not make your brand omnichannel, your brand will become one, only if you ensure a level of interconnected presence across a multitude of channels that will offer your consumers an absolute seamless experience.

As retailers look forward to welcoming customers, the need to communicate with them via digital channels in an integrated approach is the need of the hour and probably a quintessential way to engage with the potential customers.

Search Engines and Social Media will lead to sales and not just influence
The way retailers need to reach out to their potential customers depends on a variety of factors. However, the digital seems to be a win-win situation for everyone as today 11.8 percent of Gen-Z prefer to shop on Facebook and whopping 25 percent of Baby Boomers too prefer social media as their ideal destination
for shopping, according to the US-based BigCommerce’s 2018 Report. Today apps that were initially designed to connect with people digitally such as Instagram and Snapchat are serving as platforms for millennials to buy products and the trends indicate that shopping through social channels and mobile apps will only see an upward trajectory with internet penetration further aiding the behavior.

Interacting with customers through social media and search engines help brands understand the demography and their behavior effectively which eventually help them geo-target their customers effectively.

There was a time when omnichannel was one of the most trending terms; however, in the new normal era, it has certainly become a crucial part of every business

Physical retailers have always found it challenging to be found on search engines as e-Commerce players dominated the space. However, retailers have now started to use technology to their advantage which has helped them be discovered when a potential customer expresses his desire to shop for a product online. Social media platforms too have increasingly become a popular destination for these physical retailers to communicate with their potential audience and as a platform to exhibit their products and offers just like their e-Commerce counterparts.

Beating e-Commerce in their own game
e-Commerce players have always had an upper hand as far as pricing and choices available for buyers are concerned. Over the years, e-Commerce players have offered customers heavy discounts which have deeply impacted the sales figures of the physical retailers. Besides the price wars, another battle where online player seems to enjoy an advantage is the ability to maintain large product catalogues.

Through the help of technology, retailers can create equip themselves efficiently while also keeping a tab on their pricing. Efficient usage of available resources will eventually lead the retailers to a position where they can improve their pricing and hence attract more footfalls. Retailers certainly enjoy a few benefits that e-Commerce players don't and with the proper use of technology to offer innovative solutions such as virtual inventory can help maximize their profits.

AR & VR will help retailers flourish
The retail sector needs to utilize the full potential of technological innovations through Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. While some players have attempted the use of these innovations, they have been largely unsuccessful besides a handful of fashion players and maybe even home furnishing companies. It is more than imperative for retailers to use technology to their benefit and attract their potential customers through a highly immersive shopping experience.

Leveraging AI in Retail
Artificial Intelligence is redefining the role of humans across several industries. The retail industry is no behind in terms of leveraging these technological advancements. Using AI algorithms to get a better market insight from broad databases and then using it to project product demand, by taking the market trends, sales, and other factors into account is a common scenario nowadays. AI automation and robotization will also play a significant role in the new world order. AI can be leveraged to set the pricing strategy for a product depending on the market trends and location.

With a new world order in sight, the retailers need to know their customer base even better than it used to before. Leveraging the right technology with well-concocted strategies will lead to a sustainable and scalable industry.