As the UK has now mainly reopened, most non-essential shops and businesses are having to rethink their usual strategies to incorporate a higher level of customer and staff safety, and attempt to both claw back profits and make customers feel comfortable being back in stores. The Centre for Retail Research suggested that as of the end of June, UK retail losses totalled 49,790 jobs and 3,607 stores - and those retailers holding on will be hard-pressed to recoup the three months of lost revenue of what is normally a busy shopping period of the year.
It’s a puzzle with many elements to place correctly before we see how the final picture will look. Amongst many, one key element is how retailers use every asset, including data analytics, to their advantage and upskill their staff to provide an efficient and heightened level of service and problem solving.
Given the blow to profits that lockdown has represented and the social distancing/PPE measures that are transforming the way in-store customer interactions happen, retailers will be very keen to ensure through all means possible that customers still get the care and attention that a positive in-store experience offers. This is where analytics can offer an edge.
In order to effectively respond to reopening, organisations need fast access to granular insights at all levels, from strategic decisions to the frontlines. Search and AI are key to making that possible. The core areas they can help in this environment are:
Ensuring safety. First and foremost, businesses need to ensure safety both for their teams and customers. Using data can help them formulate a strategy for how many customers can safely be in store, how many employees should be there to service, etc. Once the data is collected meticulous decision-making can occur fiting staffing needs, planning store routes, and suggesting new ways of displaying stock in-store for quicker shopping trips, safely moving a greater number of customers through in the same time. This is a situation where every inch, every second counts.
Demand Forecasting. Companies can't rely on aggregated, averaged data. They need up to date information, down the most granular level, or they will miss critical insights around what products are selling in stores, which people prefer to buy on-line, which are spiking as society reopens, etc. They can then reorient supply chains, purchasing, inventory, etc., to match these shifting demands. Consumer habits and economy as a whole has been immensely affected. As businesses reopen they need to consider what new demand patterns may be here to stay in the short, mid, and long terms as the situation progresses. Moreover when the customer asks a question they must get an answer - or the risk is that they walk down the high-street or go online.
Deliver new customer experiences. Reopening doesn't mean business will return to exactly how it was before. Customer demands have shifted. Some want more delivery or pickup options. Others want to buy items bundled together. Understanding customers at a granular level will enable retailers to adapt to the new normal. With a competent analytics solution organisations can track new habits, cross reference the cost of offering them, and begin to work out how best to manage and promote them. For example, examining the metrics of curb-side pick-up, and seeing what tactics they can continue to employ to drive higher profits as we move through what might be a long-term changed way of operating due to the pandemic.
Ultimately, it’s the people on the front line serving customers that need to be given the tools that they need to offer the best customer experience possible. Given the confounding variables the virus has thrown into the mix, experience is everything to ensure customers are safe and satisfied.