Retailers have scrambled to adjust to pandemic pressures over the past year with new strategies and technologies, and innovations like the unification of online and in-person shopping experiences are here to stay, according to a session at the National Retail Federation (NRF)’s annual trade show.
Held online to accommodate many of the same travel and distance constraints that have challenged retailers in recent months, the NRF conference featured conversations about trends in order fulfillment, inventory visibility, and curbside pickup.
Once relegated to discussions between warehouse professionals, those topics have been pulled in to the spotlight as the coronavirus crisis has changed the way people shop, forcing retailers to react, according to Christian Floerkemeier, the Co-founder, CTO, and VP, Product of Scandit. Switzerland-based Scandit is a venture-backed provider of data capture platforms for the logistics, manufacturing, and retail sectors.
As retailers encountered an explosion of e-commerce demand, many companies stumbled over pain points like scaling up their in-store order picking activity, deploying new fulfillment processes, and optimizing home delivery routes, he said. Their creative solutions to those challenges are now triggering major changes that will remain long after the Covid threat has passed.
One of the most noticeable shifts will be a merger of the online and in-person shopping experiences, as both consumers and store associates increasingly conduct their business with the smartphones in their pockets, said Floerkemeier. For example, they can scan items on shelves and then see recommendations from other consumers who have bought the same item, view product ratings, access personalized discount offers, or use augmented reality (AR) functions to gain extra information.
In pursuit of that approach, one of the most important tools for retailers has been to deploy their employees’ own smartphones instead of issuing dozens of store-owned devices, a strategy also known as bring your own device (BYOD), Floerkemeier said.
By relying on those personal phones, companies in the pandemic were able to pivot quickly when travel bans and store closures began. Instead of following traditional shopping patterns with consumers visiting stores, one grocer launched an app that allowed its workers to fulfill e-commerce orders by scanning barcodes on goods on shelves, scanning totes or bins, and sorting the goods into the right locations for curbside pickup.
Other stores followed a similar pattern, leveraging their existing infrastructure to convert standard shopping patterns to in-store fulfillment. Employees would scan ordered goods, collect the data in an app, create a quick response (QR) code, and scan that code at the point of sale (PoS) cash register to complete the sale.
Likewise, a clothing store was struggling to fulfill orders from its distant warehouse during pandemic closures, so it built an in-store fulfillment app and invited customers to visit specific retail shops to pick up their purchases through a buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) process.
The benefits of following a BYOD approach during the pandemic also paid off by helping employers avoid the challenge of cleaning devices between shifts, since each worker used only their own device, he said. In addition, it accelerated the training of new employees, as each new hire was already familiar with their own phone. Both those benefits were critical during the large spikes in hiring of logistics workers needed to fulfill e-commerce orders during the pandemic boom, as seen with the online grocery retailer InstaCart and at Shipt, a unit of Target that deploys professional shoppers to pick online orders from store shelves, he said.
Join Scandit at #NRF2021 tomorrow 12pm (EST)— Scandit (@Scandit) January 12, 2021
Scandit founder Christian Floerkemeier will showcase successful examples of retailers adapting to the pandemic.
From order fulfillment to inventory visibility.https://t.co/RUtfZezc7c pic.twitter.com/SInRIgvEau