By Devin Partida, ReHack.com
The last year took a toll on nearly every industry around the globe. Retailers scrambled to figure out the ways the pandemic affected their businesses and how to survive in a rapidly changing commerce landscape. For many, turning to technology was the only solution to remain viable going forward.
During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, people turned to online ordering as a way to stay socially distant. This accelerated beyond what anyone predicted. Even in the first quarter of 2021, Walmart's e-commerce sales soared another 37% in the United States and 49% globally.
Small businesses able to embrace the advances in tech have weathered the storm better than those who couldn’t. Here are the top six ways tech can help retailers remain competitive throughout 2021.
1. Implementing Omnichannel Options
Although people prefer to shop online, they also want a live human to help with troubleshooting. Your long-time customers may still want to pick up in your store or use the phone to ask questions.
You can serve both needs by implementing customer relationship and inventory management systems that integrate with your online and brick-and-mortar locations. All your employees should be able to pull up information in a flash and meet customer needs.
2. Embrace SMS Marketing
People send 8 trillion text messages each year, or over 15,000 texts every minute of the day. They often look at SMS messages the minute they arrive, making marketing this way one of the most impactful methods you can employ.
Invest in a service allowing you to push messages to your customers with special offers, news of new product arrivals, and reminders about events. You can even utilize SMS as a customer service option.
3. Integrate Point-Of-Sale Systems
Your online POS system needs to function as smoothly as your in-person one does. However, just having great e-commerce and in-store POS isn’t enough. At some point, you must connect the two to ensure you have the inventory to fulfill online orders.
You need a system that tracks real-time inventory. If someone picks up an item in your shop and buys it, the number of available products on your website should change instantly to reflect the remaining stock. You don’t want to disappoint your online patrons by selling them something they then have to wait weeks to receive.
4. Forecast Demand
Knowing what products people will want and how many you should order helps you thrive as a business both online and in person. Machine learning has made it possible for computers to use predictive analytics to figure out the most likely scenario.
Punch in details about your buyers’ behavior, past purchase history, and other factors to determine what to buy, when, and how much. You also can tie machine learning into your inventory systems to let you know when a product becomes popular overnight or inventory gets low.
5. Consider Autonomous Delivery Vehicles
If you run a retail business that offers delivery, such as a grocery store or restaurant, self-driving vehicles may help solve the issue of lack of staff and save you money.
In recent years, engineers have made advances in self-driving cars, delivery bots, and trains. The cost of the equipment is certain to come down as the service becomes more popular.
6. Hire Fewer Cashiers
Throughout 2021, many businesses have struggled to find the staff to fill roles within their retail establishments. A recovering economy, additional funding for unemployment, and fears about returning to work with a virus still at large have all contributed to the struggle.
Companies do have the option to replace humans with machines for checkout and ordering. While you should keep your loyal, hardworking employees, there’s no reason you can’t move them into more supportive roles and shift checkout and ordering options to machines.
What Will The Next 5 Years Look Like?
The shift to more technology and online interactions happened faster than anyone expected. With change comes innovation, so more tech options will likely be released in the coming years as businesses tap into devices that work with the Internet of Things.
Be open to the options that save you time and money. If your customers ask for a particular tech feature, do your best to implement it for them. With a little foresight, you’ll stand out from your competitors and rise above where you thought your business could go.
About The Author
Devin Partida is a writer and blogger interested in retail technologies and business solutions. To read more from Devin, visit ReHack.com, where she is the Editor-in-Chief.