CUSTOMERS LOOK FOR TO VISIT A RETAIL SHOWROOM

Experts predict that there could be a major disruption over the next few months, but it could open up new business opportunities for the Retail Sector, allowing it to expand its horizons. Though there has been no precedent to such a crisis in the past, retailers are confident that their efforts will bear fruit and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

What should retailers focus on first is regaining customers’ confidence by ensuring social distancing, sanitising and other safety-norms. As the owner of a shop in a Bengaluru mall noted, such precautions have already been taken and the footfalls have been increasing by the day, though there was an initial hesitation by customers. He said that he is glad to be back in business after a long hiatus. His sales have begun to pick up gradually and apart from sanitising at the entrance of the mall, as an additional precaution, he too has placed his personnel at the entrance of the shop, taking thermal-readings and offering sanitisers and masks. “All my staff has been told to practise no-contact sales by placing the material on the counter and not to come in physical contact with customers at any point of time. All of us are wearing gloves and masks to instill confidence among our valued customers,” he emphasised.

To ensure that the backlog of stock is cleared, retailers can think of offering time-limited discounts on certain products to win back customers. Though it should not turn into a habit, it can certainly attract customers in the short term, an expert said. “Our warehouse is full and we want to clear the stock as there is a possibility of it going out of fashion. I am thinking of clearing it by offering discounts,” said a cloth-retailer in Koramangala, Bengaluru.

As cash-flows are thin at present, retailers should seek time from their suppliers and service-providers to make payments. This buffer is crucial, and once the business picks up, these costs can be paid off, experts suggest. As a retailer from the up-market Indiranagar noted, “I have sought time from the owner of the property to pay rent. I am delaying my payments to my suppliers too. This will give me the much-needed breathing space and as I am already getting a steady stream of customers, I am sure I can clear all the dues over the next three to four months,” he said.

It is also time to be tech savvy and use resources that are already available at hand without expending too much effort and finances.

SAFE-EX IS THE NEW GAME PLAN

In the pre-pandemic time, the Mattress retail industry has been adopting a Hybrid approach of online shopping and offline experience. Even the digital natives which started off as e-commerce mattress stores began foraying offline for delivering better customer experience. In these changed times though this will put a challenging proposition. However, a new buzzword is making the rounds in Retail. It’s called SafeX and stands for Safe eXperience. Providing safer experiences will be critical to addressing customer anxieties and return to in-person interactions. In most pandemic-hit nations, a majority of consumers reportedly indicated they expect to care more about product safety. Retailers must implement policies and processes to enable safe distances, sanitise surfaces and products, and communicate proactively, clearly, and empathetically

Social Media Presence

Over the last few years, online shopping has definitely picked up and not just behemoths like Amazon and Flipkart, even small retailers can make use of the omnipresent internet shopping to push their sales. It is all the more relevant now, with customers hesitating to visit shops and other business establishments. Small retailers can make their presence felt in social media sites, on Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. Especially with Whatsapp, retailers can create dedicated groups and ensure timely and efficient services to their customers to boost profits. Neighbourhood retailers can source phone numbers from their customers and create localised groups for smaller areas so that delivery efficiency can be achieved. Since customers are comfortable paying online, grocers need not worry about tracking cash payments and chasing customers for payments.

Embracing Internet of Things

Retailers should recognise the power of mobiles and expand on the technology in their shops. They can create a better experience for their customers by including realtime targeted promotions and offer automatic checkout as they walk out of shops. A popular sports shop in Bengaluru asks customers to download its app and enter the item numbers on the app, so that checkout becomes faster. The customer can enter the details as he waits for his turn in the queue and pays immediately after reaching the counter. This saves time for shop employees as well as the customer. Once the customers’ phone numbers are captured, shops can send them alerts about discount sales and other personalised offers to boost profits.

Technology also allows shops to optimise inventory by monitoring the stocks on shelves and storehouses automatically.

Retailers can also place ads on websites that are frequently visited by their customers and allow them to make purchases seamlessly.

Bring an In-Store Feel to The Digital Experience

A report by McKinsey proposes that the inability to engage customers in a physical environment has pushed some retailers to bring more of the in-store experience online. First, leading retailers have substituted in-store personalized interaction with offerings such as virtual appointments, where sales associates use videoconferencing platforms to offer personalised attention to customers. Sales agents help individuals find products that meet their needs while learning ways to better serve customers online. Similarly, retailers are using livestreaming to engage with customers and increase revenue and loyalty by sharing experiential content. In China, for example, Taobao Live made it easier for brick-and-mortar retailers to join its live-streaming channel platform, leading to a 719 percent increase in participating merchants in February 2020 compared with the prior month. Trained staff can create content that addresses customer challenges in an entertaining way while promoting current products and new launches.

It is believed that the reopening process offers an opportunity to establish new models. The physical distancing requirements will likely constrain the number of employees who can be in stores at the same time. These constraints could drive retailers to optimise activities such as opening and closing processes, checkout, restocking, and e-commerce fulfillment. Store reopening will also offer retailers an opportunity to fundamentally change how core processes are carried out and implement best practices.