The pandemic has drastically affected the global economy, and the private business sector wasn’t an exception. Some of the most dramatic shifts occurred in the retail industry, where brands were faced with rapidly changing market conditions and fluctuations in consumer behavior and demand.
Today, retail companies that want to win the competition and gain customer loyalty have to adapt nonstop. Fortunately, technological advances and the emergence of innovative digital commerce tools enable brands to transform to become more flexible and ready for any consumer behavior changes and expectations.
COVID-19 as a Great Retail Disruptor
The most apparent impact of the pandemic is in the accelerated transition to digital shopping (although this trend was there even before the crisis); according to a recent survey by PwC, 51% of consumers note they have become more “digital.”
Today, increasing retailers’ online presence (whether it is developing a mobile app or a trade portal) isn’t just about accessing other lead generation and sales channels; rather, this is the only available way to prosper in our COVID-affected world.
Another critical tendency is that consumers have become more flexible in their habits, so they tend to switch brands more often. McKinsey states that more than a third of consumers (36%) have tried a different brand because their usual supplier no longer satisfied their needs and demand.
All of the above means that retail companies got some heavy lifting to do. First, they have to be flexible enough to keep up with changes in the demand and audience’s preferences; simultaneously, brands have to deliver the best possible customer experience to attract and retain attention.
And here’s one more thing: this tricky situation may continue even after the pandemic; consumers may become used to the convenience and time savings provided by ecommerce, and only those brands that adapt to these new requirements are likely to remain future-proof.
At Itransition, we believe that digital transformation is critical for coping with the challenges of the post-COVID era. Here are several technologies that can enable brands to remain flexible and competitive in the long run.
The Post-COVID Ecommerce Tech Stack
Ecommerce CRM (Instead of a Generic One)
During our times of change, interactions between brands and customers have become more complex than ever; today, the typical customer journey is fragmented and split across many channels — websites, mobile apps, social media, and so on.
For brands, adequate and concurrent management of such multiple fragments may be too complicated. To overcome this issue, brands can implement a specialized CRM solution; it can combine data from different channels into one centralized system to help brands have a complete overview of their audience and understand its preferences and characteristics (such as gender, age, and location). Marketing and sales managers can then use this data to collaborate, plan, implement, and personalize campaigns without physical contact with the customer.
Compared to generic CRM, ecommerce-specific solutions may be more valuable in the pandemic; they offer low-code capabilities, so any customizations won’t require strong technical skills and resources, and any team can easily adjust features to any changes in business requirements.
What is the best way to adapt to any change? Of course, to predict it. Today, companies can analyze how customers interact with their brands and products in real time and draw conclusions based on this data.
For example, by leveraging predictive analytics capabilities, companies can track the volume of sales for particular products among different segments of their target audiences. Later, teams can use this data to make more relevant recommendations, adjust pricing, or run promotional campaigns.
All this, one way or another, helps brands better meet customer demand and consequently increase conversions, which would allow reducing the pandemic’s impact for such brands.
VR & AR
Technologies that allow customers to “try before they buy” have been around for several years already, yet their implementation wasn’t a common practice. In our era of social distancing, VR & AR have become not just some exciting extras but essential parts of strategies of such big market players like IKEA, Sephora, and Etsy.
Implementing VR and AR solutions, companies are blurring the line between physical and virtual: now, a consumer can interact with the brand’s products without leaving home. Thus, businesses can reduce their returns rates (after all, a person tries a product before purchasing) and increase their value from the consumer’s perspective; if a company provides customers with such capabilities, they will hardly decide to switch to a less technologically advanced competitor.
AI-Powered Conversational Bots
Given that the pandemic made brands even more dependent on consumer satisfaction, providing outstanding customer support has become one of the most critical factors for achieving success, and this is where intelligent chatbots may become handy.
Modern chatbots are developed according to the latest natural language processing and machine learning practices. That’s why they can understand not only the most straightforward queries but also “sense” the context of the conversation, which brings their behavior closer to a human specialist. And here, the mechanical nature of bots may also be a plus; after all, bots don’t get sick and take vacations, which means they can take care of your customers 24/7.
The pandemic had a significant impact on the retail market and consumer behavior; in particular, people began to shop via digital channels on an ongoing basis and switch brands more often, which made retail businesses react and adapt.
Retail digital transformation has become a natural consequence of these changes: companies that want to remain competitive need to evolve technologically to be more productive and valuable for the consumer than their competitors. Technologies such as predictive analytics, VR, and smart bots enable brands to cope with this task and respond to the challenges of the post-COVID age.