Muted sales at brick-and-mortar stores, disappointing footfalls at retail shops and empty malls are all signs that customers still lack the confidence to step out and shop.
Despite retailers following Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) set by the government, customers have stayed away. Unlock 4 began on September 1, but so far, stores haven’t seen any major improvement in footfalls.
In the current scenario, the fear of getting infected with the deadly virus has prompted customers to shop online. Indeed, in contrast to their brick-and mortar counterparts, ecommerce platforms have seen sales rebound to 90 percent of their pre-Covid levels. The physical stores have not been able to touch even 25 percent of their pre-Covid sales volumes.
According to the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), India’s retail sector has suffered a business loss of a whopping Rs 15.5 lakh crore since the lockdown.
Tech to the rescue
To woo customers back and help them feel safe, retail stores may have to adopt advanced technology to make everything contactless. To this end, the industry may have to implement contactless solutions such as mobile payments, which may be the only way to transact to reduce the human ‘touch’.
“Contactless consumption is going to become the new norm. This will lead to widespread use of technologies like magic mirrors that support touchless shopping,” said Manish Kapoor, CEO, Pepe Jeans India, in a webinar organised by the Retailers Association of India (RAI). Magic mirrors are 3D virtual fitting rooms with realistic cloth simulation.
Payments will be contactless and involve the use of QR codes, mobile payments and tap-and-go technologies.
Automation will redefine the shopping process and experience. Right from the time the customer enters the store until he is out with his/her shopping bag, the whole experience will be contactless.
Here’s a scenario
In the post-Covid world, if retailers make their stores completely contactless then there will be zero-touch entry into the stores. This will involve having temperature screening equipment and mask detection machines at the entrance.
Sensor-based indicators or density counters will prevent overcrowding, manage the number of people inside the store and maintain physical distancing.
Robots may replace in-store executives to increase safety. Globally, stores such as Amazon and Walmart are already using mobile robots in their warehouses and retail stores for inventory scanning, materials handling, and cleaning.
There will be virtual trial rooms or magic mirrors. VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) will help in creating that three-dimensional layer.
Once a customer has picked up clothes of his/her choice, there will be no need to stand in queue for payment. The items will be scanned by a device equipped with a barcode scanner and added to an e-cart.
Payment will be made through app-based e-billing and payment. A virtual customer service desk will resolve queries.It may take different forms, but, with Covid bringing the world to its knees, shopping in the future is certain to evolve, with health and safety gaining primacy and technology playing a key role to enable this.