Guest Column | February 22, 2021

How Technology Makes In-Store Shopping Safer

By Kate Prohorchik, Iflexion

In Store Shopping Technology

2020 provided ample occasions for retailers to test their business resilience and learn how to overcome obstacles. While online stores were experiencing extraordinary growth, many traditional retailers struggled to keep their heads above water following a sharp fall in sales.

The massive transition to e-stores during the pandemic has made online presence non-negotiable for retail owners. Yet, even if physical stores won’t disappear altogether, their role will irreversibly change, and so will consumers’ requirements. Safety considerations will become a priority, and business owners will need to step up safety measures to accommodate the new concerns.

Enforcing mandatory social distancing, installing hand sanitizer stations, and providing PPE for the staff is the bare minimum. To go the extra mile in mitigating significant risks and solving customer pain points related to in-store shopping, retailers need to come up with strategies regarding custom retail software to aid in health safety provision.

In-Store Automation: A Window Of Opportunity For Physical Stores

Retail automation solutions are nothing new. They were already available long before the pandemic, empowering sellers with data insights, efficiency gains, and cost savings. Still, many business owners dragged out their adoption, sometimes held back by budget constraints but most often hindered by business inertia and resistance to change.

When the pandemic pushed shoppers to e-commerce, the attitude of traditional retailers toward automation changed dramatically. They saw a unique opportunity in modern retail software — armed with robust data analytics and AI algorithms — to reinvent physical stores and beat the challenges amplified by the lockdown.

By enabling faster restocking, reduced congestion, and less manual handling, these intelligent solutions provide a range of benefits that may turn out essential for drawing customers back into physical stores post-COVID. Here’s what these technologies have to offer.

Minimizing Contact Between Customers And Staff

Cashier-less stores are still out of bounds for most retailers. They require a substantial investment in video-sensing equipment, an array of IoT sensors and scanners, intelligent software, and seamless connectivity. However, most mid to large shop owners can afford to install a self-checkout system that enables safe, contact-free shopping in line with the COVID-19 safety precautions.

By combining a range of mobile POS, self-scan, and self-checkout software, retailers can build an end-to-end solution that allows shoppers to complete their in-store purchases with minimal or no physical interaction. It will make it much easier to comply with COVID-19 safety rules while increasing checkout speed, reducing queues, and generally improving customer flows. This is a meaningful side benefit, considering that a lengthy checkout process belongs to the most common consumer complaints.

Optimizing In-Store Customer Flows To Maintain Social Distance

Traditionally, retailers were trying their hardest to keep customers in the store for as long as possible. Now, they must reinvent their strategies to make shopping fast and efficient to overcome customers’ fears of exposure to potential infection sources. A reliable way to achieve that is through retail technology.

Traffic management solutions like people counter detectors work by counting store visitors at the whole site or zones. Shopper density data they provide can be used to gauge store occupancy and verify compliance with safety protocols. Additionally, these systems offer valuable insights into store layout improvements to ensure meeting social distancing guidelines.

Another efficient retail technology leveraging in-store analytics to ensure adherence to occupancy limits is virtual queuing. Connected to the in-store retail system, virtual queue apps can be implemented as mobile apps or website features that allows users to book a slot for their store visit. Upon booking, a customer receives a mobile ticket, waits remotely for his or her turn, and monitors the queue over the phone. A notification is sent once it’s safe to come inside. Altogether it is a convenient and straightforward solution that enables customers to avoid queues, shop faster, and remain safe at the same time.

Providing For Safe Digital Payments

In many countries, contactless payments (mobile wallets, app payments, and tap-to-go cards) were already widespread before the pandemic. However, when the virus hit, the concern over the potential transmission of germs at cash transactions has led to a massive increase in their usage. Within a few months, no-touch payments have become an essential part of the retail infrastructure.

As MasterCard reports, over half of U.S. consumers currently use some form of contactless payments. Consumers choose them as the preferred payment method, particularly when shopping for essentials (mostly groceries and pharmacy items).

Apart from reducing the risk of disease transmission, no-touch payments streamline transactions, positively impacting consumer experience. Payments aside, contactless technologies also enable the evolution of other shopping solutions that minimize human interaction, such as self-scanning or curbside pickup.

Enabling In-Store Pickup

Coronavirus fueled the popularity of click & collect and store-to-home solutions. In April last year, Adobe Analytics reported a 208% YoY growth in curbside deliveries, confirming the emergence of a new trend in retail.

By allowing customers to order products online and get them delivered or pick them up in the nearest store, the new retail services make shopping safe and convenient. They are especially valued by individuals in the risk group or undergoing quarantine. At the same time, they create new revenue opportunities for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Various approaches are available — a retailer may choose to open an order pickup collection point in-store or near-store, hire own delivery drivers, or leverage on logistic partners. Modern full-service delivery solutions allow retailers to control the entire sales process, from selecting assortments available for delivery to setting up pickup locations and determining order delivery zones.

Ensuring Safe Shopping With Retail Automation Solutions

The coronavirus outbreak has had a lasting effect on the retail market. The role of traditional brick-and-mortar stores has radically changed but retailers can still run a prosperous business if they are ready to adapt.

One of the chief requirements for modern retail stores will be to ensure the highest safety standards. New sanitation protocols will become part of a daily routine, and affordable automation solutions will be essential for maintaining them. Retailers who embrace the new trend as early as possible will be the first to come out victorious out of the COVID-19 battle.

About The Author

Kate Prohorchik is a Technology Observer at Iflexion