As the entire world is scrambling to come back to normalcy under the COVID-19 pandemic-induced social distancing guidelines, brick-and-mortar retailers are shifting gears to rapidly embrace digital technologies to bridge the physical distance and navigate the crisis. With increased competition from e-commerce, reduced foot traffic and low consumer confidence, the need to build digital capabilities is now or never for physical retail stores, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Venkata Naveen, Disruptive Tech Analyst at GlobalData comments: “As stores began to reopen doors, retailers are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR) to offer hygiene-centric shopping experiences to customers with ‘contactless retail’ and increase their confidence to shop during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tech-enabled applications like virtual queuing, footfall analytics, contactless payments, self-checkout and chatbots have suddenly seen an uptick at point-of-sale for retailers.”

The Innovation Explorer database of GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Center highlights how various retailers around the world are using digital technologies to increase the customer footfall while meeting the safety standards.

Footfall Analytics

Kroger has deployed QueVision technology to monitor customer footfall and activity inside its stores to curb the spread of COVID-19. The system can count the total number of shoppers entering and exiting the store using IoT-embedded cameras. It alerts operators when the store reaches 50% of its capacity, prompting them to open additional checkout windows to speed up the process.

Virtual Queuing

British supermarket chain Asda has launched a virtual queuing initiative, the first of its kind in the UK, which allows them to register and check-in into a virtual queue on their smartphone and then wait until their turn. Shoppers can check the waiting time and choose a store according to their convenience. The new system has been trialed at Asda’s store in Middleton, Leeds and the retailer plans to implement across its stores in the UK.

Self-checkout

Decathlon has partnered with MishiPay to introduce a mobile self-checkout solution across its 81 retail stores in Germany. Customers can scan the barcode of the products using their smartphone to get full product details along with offers or promotions and checkout with their mobile app. Once the payment is done, the RFID security tag on the product is disabled, enabling the customer to exit the store.

Chatbots

Lidl Ireland has launched a WhatsApp-based chatbot to help shoppers find out the least busy time for shopping at its stores. The retailer has developed the platform using in-house customized software to segregate waiting queues based on time and day. Using WhatsApp, consumers can text about the time and day they expect to visit a store, wherein the chatbot uses real-time shoppers’ data gathered from various local stores of the retailer to provide an ideal time to shop.

Naveen concludes: “While the long-term social and economic impact of the pandemic on retail stores is still not clear, it has brought the industry a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and created an imminent need to build digital capabilities. The shopping behaviors of consumers, shaped up by the implications of the pandemic, can only be met with the digital savviness of retail stores. Contactless retail is here to stay until a vaccine is ready and even continue to do so as the world emerges from the pandemic.”

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