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Come What May: The Future Of Contactless

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The partners at RSR are in a quandary about how to write about the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. Should we use past tense, present, or future? Are we in a “post-pandemics” world yet? Maybe not! I was talking this AM to an agent at a California state office, Mrs. Morgan, and while she looked up my information we chatted about “getting back to the office” (over the din of kids and a television blasting away in the background). Mrs. Morgan said that the state had determined a September date for returning to the office, but now that has been pushed to the end of October. What I took from this is that those retailers who were looking to invent the working adult version of a “Back-to-School” (“Back-To-The-Office”?) season may be in for a disappointment.

We’ve been asked a lot about what to expect for the holiday season, and that too is a conundrum. Fashion retailers in particular have been hoping for a burst of sales from “revenge shopping”. Here’s how one writer described it:

After a full year of stay-at-home orders, quarantines and business closures and restrictions, consumers have a lot of pent-up emotions. Their solution? Revenge shopping. As the name implies, revenge shopping is consumers making up for lost time with an increase in spending. And many companies are using it as a lifeline to boost sales and keep their businesses afloat.[1]

The problem is, the assumption in the title for that piece, “In A Post-Covid World Customers Will Be Revenge Shopping”, may not hold – we’re clearly not yet in a post-pandemic environment. If year-over-year comparisons are misleading and future consumer demand is anybody’s guess, what should retailers do?

That brings us to the subject of a forthcoming benchmark that RSR is developing, tentatively entitled What Contactless Shopping Means For the Store (scheduled for an end-August release). Our aim for the research project was simple: acknowledge that the retail world has irrevocably changed (and will continue to), identify those areas within the shopping experience/fulfillment process which stand to be altered the most as a result, and query retailers on to their attitudes and plans to solve for those changes, for both the short and mid-term.

No matter what happens, the fact is that shoppers will get to choose how they shop for quite some time to come. The speed with which consumers adopted new shopping journeys is unprecedented. That was foreseeable; after all, British retailer Argos first established “click and collect” (or “buy online/ pickup instore” – BOPIS, and more recently, “buy online/ pickup curbside” – BOPAC) about 20 years ago. But despite all the early warnings, the new study shows that most retailers weren’t ready (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Why Are Retailers Surprised?

Source: RSR Research, August 2021

When Everything Is Important, Is Anything Important?

During the 2020 lockdown, retailers did “whatever it takes” to fulfill and deliver online orders, but that often meant big disruptions to normal store operations with new processes and additional labor. But retailers realize that some of these changes are here to stay and are planning to adjust as a result. For example, 76% of FMCG merchants (grocers, drug stores, convenience stores) acknowledge the need for new store designs that can accommodate both traditional and omnichannel shopping, and almost 80% of general merchandisers accept that curbside pickup of online orders has become a baseline service offering.

Late or not, retailers have gotten religion when it comes to the new capabilities required to service customers in new ways (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Everything Is Important

Source: RSR Research, August 2021

That’s a long to-do list! But one thing is for certain: the world is going to remain unpredictable for the foreseeable future. Retail isn’t going back to “normal” anytime soon and those who can build in the flexibility to fulfill orders in non-traditional ways will do better. That is no longer even debatable.

Look For The New Research

RSR will publish our new benchmark, What Contactless Shopping Means For the Store later this month. Like all RSR’s benchmarks, we will examine the business challenges and opportunities associated with omnichannel customer order fulfillment in the store, along with the organizational inhibitors that stand in the way of progress and the technology enablers that retailers favor to address those challenges and opportunities.

All RSR’s benchmarks are free to everyone, and online registration takes only a moment. If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to bookmark RSR’s website for the latest in our research and commentary!

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2021/03/22/customers-are-ready-to-back-with-covid-revenge-shopping/?sh=6182cb0930ab

Newsletter Articles August 10, 2021
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