As with all things post-Covid, the shopping experience is evolving. Health and safety are gaining primacy, and technology is playing a key role in enabling this. More so in these unusual times, when technology has significantly disrupted and transformed shopping behaviour.
In an interaction with Moneycontrol, Alok Nayak, Senior Director, Head – CPRD (Consumer Products Retail Distribution) Sector Hub, Capgemini, said that some of the trends like surge in online shopping and adopting safety precautions in physical stores have become mainstream.
“The pandemic has driven big changes in behaviour among consumers. It is important for organizations to be mindful of the long-term behaviour shifts that the pandemic has created and accordingly position their offerings,” he added.
Nayak believes the surge in online shopping is expected to continue even in the long run. “Consumers are likely to stick to some of the new digital habits in the long run, driven by the ease and convenience of the online world,” he said.
According to Nayak, technologies like AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality) that helps to bring the in-store experience to online channels will be critical for retailers. Likewise, AR can also help in providing enhanced product information to consumers.
Nayak, who had earlier worked in HCL Tech and Siemens, has two decades experience across consumer products and retail. Paris-based Capgemini, which employs 1,20,000 people in India, is into consulting and digital transformation. Its clients include retailers looking to use cloud and digital platforms in their businesses.
Nayak also said that India’s digital story is expected to be propelled by its significant 110 million e-commerce users.
In the current scenario, the fear of getting infected with the virus has prompted customers to shop online. Indeed, in contrast to their brick-and-mortar counterparts, e-commerce 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.
With the increasing online channel, technologies will help to strengthen brand trust and loyalties. AI-enabled digital experiences will facilitate seamless ordering between the app and website along with personalization, which will in turn help gain consumer trust in online shopping, Nayak said.
Safer in-store shopping
Nayak said that in-store technologies will be imperative in the coming year not only to ensure safety but also for aiding convenience like managing queues. Also, touchless technologies including digital signage or QR scanners for scan-pay-and-go – facilitate the in-store contactless experience.
Pivoting cashless/touchless payments, self-checkout through mobile apps for product scanning and payment are some of the technologies that retailers will have to pilot and consider scaling, he said.
Changing product basket
FMCG companies will have to change the product basket towards healthier categories as the pandemic has reiterated the health focus of consumers, Nayak said, adding that consumers will prefer to spend on immunity-boosting products.
In this context, companies will have to leverage technologies like AI (Artificial Intelligence) that provide customized product recommendations based upon consumers’ unique preferences, past purchases, and personalized health and wellness goals.
Nayak also said that consumers are intending to support localized players, so organizations are also becoming aware of consumers' growing preference for local marketplaces.
By leveraging AI, integrated hyper-local personalization is going to be the new focus area for most retailers in India in the coming years, Nayak said.
In the post-Covid world, if retailers make their stores completely contactless then there will be a 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 a 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.