29th Jul, 2020
Marcom, , Designation
The word ‘disruption’ has taken on an entirely new meaning as the world navigates through this pandemic phase! Nothing in the living memory has transformed our lives to the extent this pandemic has. Every facet of life, be it personal, social, professional, or in the realm of education, has been catapulted to adapt to & embrace ‘the new normal’! The response has been quite interesting. While the new guidelines of ‘social distancing’ hit at the very fabric of our DNA as humans i.e. the inherent need for social interaction, technology has helped evolve from lack of ‘physical interaction with ‘virtual’ connect over video/conference calls enabling some semblance of ‘human connect’, albeit on a virtual platform. While we deal with travel restrictions & safety concerns on stepping out of home or out-station travel to meet our parents or kids or attend Industry events & seminars or attend community gatherings, and even school, virtual connect has become an integral part of our lives on all fronts. Video calls with family for celebrating birthdays & milestones, attending school, business meetings, attending events, video doctor consultation & even live rock concerts have become the ‘new normal’. Little wonder that world-wide adoption to video conferencing has witnessed about a 1000% surge in usage since March 2020.
The Virtual Avataar of Retail
Given the pace of change, retail models too will need to evolve to cater to customers with deep-rooted inclination towards traditional retail & preference for guidance from store employees on purchase especially of discretionary essentials like home appliances, electronics, personal computing, etc. or even personal products like skincare and grooming. Let us look at how every facet of retail, right from in-store associates to establishment of customer connect (and much more) will undergo a change.
How important is an Instore associate or Brand consultant?
The importance of store associates or Brand Consultants in retail is a well-established norm. Further associates the brand’s reputation and boost the customer’s experience through knowledge about the merchandise and inventory. Store employees are responsible for delivering a tailored selling and service experience across both the digital and physical channels.
However, with necessary social distancing guidelines, it is difficult to envisage meeting brand consultants in-person and brands are radically evolving their retail operations based on customer preferences. While some brands have already started tightening the sail, but many are still contemplating on charting uncharted waters.
E-Commerce, a definite choice of all brands today, deals with this challenge and provides instant gratification to brands that seek temporary comfort, but will this cater to the entire fabric of the society?
As per IBEF projections (Mar 2020), by 2021 traditional retail shall hold 75%, organized retail will reach 18% and Ecomm retail will be 7% of the total retail market.
Well, the statistics make it evident that traditional retail is here to stay and Ecommerce isn’t an absolute alternative. That translates into a much-required evolution of the instore associate into a virtual brand consultant.
The story of transformation
Starting with the ecosystem challenges which have become a springboard for the industry in these trying times:
- Lower store footfalls resulting in loss of sales as well as promoter bandwidth
- Missing on purchase ready customer walking into stores
- Optimizing retail investments (store presence, count) amid curtailed/ staggered operations
- Lack of readiness of store staff as per changing customer preferences for ‘virtual’ interaction instead of ‘in-person’
How virtual retail is the solution for not just COVID but much beyond?
The above-mentioned challenges can be addressed to quite an extent by resorting to alternate methods of engaging with customers from the comfort of their homes & through a ‘no-touch’ method. The most logical & easy -to- adopt answer is to replace physical with virtual viz. customers can interact with store staff over a video call & get the consultation & demo required for making purchase decisions instead of walking into a store. Thus, store ‘walk-in’ can get augmented by ‘call-in’ to a significant extent.
Other than retaining customer engagement that otherwise would have been lost with poor walk-ins, there are additional fringe benefits brands can expect from Virtual Retail Model. The model can help brands drive deeper market penetration irrespective of Brick &Mortar Store presence, allow flexibility in store operations, and optimize promoter utilization amid limited walk-in.
While the above are just broad challenges & solutions and might vary based on the product category, the unanimous voice across all retail formats is to go closer to the customer, with no-touch contactless Modes of engagement
At Denave, we believe there is NO single answer to address these changes and rather there is a need to look at a multi-pronged approach to gear up Retail for the New Normal.
Just to check all the boxes the multi-pronged approach should lead the brand to S-T-A-R-T
- Shift Walk-in to Call-ins
- Transform promoter conversations from instore to virtual
- A Unified user journey right from query generation to final sale
- Record all data points for stronger future-ready insights
- Trade-off every digital tactic for incremental impact
Lastly, as we all reboot to the New Normal there will always be something innovative and uncharted to share. Let’s all stay safe and stay connected — virtually for now!!
The article originally appeared in Indian Retailer.