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How has Covid-19 transformed investment in retail technology?

The retail sector endured seismic change over the last 24 months as the pandemic revolutionised how retailers across Europe operate and engage with their customers.

They were forced to deliver more cashless transactions, respond to the incredible rise in e-commerce demand and respond to disruption across the supply chain.

Technology has been the great enabler, empowering retailers to adapt, drive growth, and outperform their competition.

Our research on retail decision makers across Europe, delivered in partnership with market research firm Savanta, revealed that three quarters of retailers accelerated their adoption of new technologies because of the pandemic.

Almost half said that investing in more technology is a key priority for the next five years. And we know that there are three key areas of focus that are capturing the imagination of those businesses across the continent.

Here we look at some of those technologies.

1.    Redefining fulfilment and logistics

Robust and accurate documentation is critical across the supply chain, from location labelling to durable, high-quality packing and delivery labels. And more retailers are considering versatile multifunction devices to scan and print clear stock labels and receipts, which can create more efficient and accurate management processes and speed up order fulfilment.

Warehouse management systems are giving more retailers complete visibility of inventory, whether in store, in the warehouse or in transit, which can improve order and returns tracking and provide a more holistic overview of operations, ensuring space and labour is used as efficiently as possible.

These are being supplemented by inventory management software, which includes real time valuation, low stock alerts and automated purchase orders, to maximise the use of space and ensure stock levels, and automated picking, which uses mobile robots to ensure accuracy and round-the-clock operations.

2.    Creating new in-store experiences

The role of physical shopping has changed, not disappeared. Consumers want the same simplicity they receive online, coupled with experiences that they don’t.

To deliver this, high-street retailers need to become ‘digital bricks’ – physical stores with technology at their core, and prepare for the future of retail. Retailers are investing in interactive fitting rooms, using 3D imaging technology and augmented reality, to make it faster and easier for customers to try before they buy, along with touchscreens to make it simpler for shoppers to access their profiles in-store, linking with their online channels to create a more personalised experience.

And more retailers are now harnessing data to target shoppers in the local vicinity, too, gathering information from devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers to reach them with tailored offers and marketing messages.

These frictionless experiences are migrating to in-store payments. Amazon and Aldi have both trialed stores that enable consumers to check in with their smartphone so they can be automatically charged for any goods they take out, with no need to go through a checkout, raising the question if we are heading towards a cashless society.

3.    Enhancing the digital customer journey

Brands are looking at new apps and visualisers to create interactive fitting rooms online as well as in-store, enabling consumers to virtually ‘try on’ outfits or see how an item of furniture would look in their home.

Digital tracking tools can collect data at each stage of the customer journey to build a detailed picture of shoppers’ online behaviour, providing insights that retailers can use to better target their online marketing.

And by building intelligent automation into the solution, retailers are discovering that they can compile information on every interaction a consumer has had with their brand and place it at their fingertips of their customer service agents. What’s more, the retail technology can make actionable recommendations based on the data.  

Digging deeper into the retail technology worth investing in

Businesses across the sector have a lot on their plate and we know that retail technology will play an increasingly vital role in adapting how they operate.

So, we wanted to understand what retailers are experiencing and planning. In our latest report, we dig deeper to understand the impact the pandemic has had on them, what technologies they have invested in, how they are using these technologies and what they are planning to adopt in the future.

To complement our survey of sector decision-makers, we interviewed a high-profile panel of retail experts from across Europe to hear about stories of how their businesses have responded.

*Research of 169 business decision-makers working in retail across Western Europe, conducted in June 2021.

Click here to read our latest insight report into the sector and hear about what your peers are focusing on.

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