Omni-channel is now or never: here’s 5 initiatives retailers need to survive Covid-19

Imogen Wethered
by Imogen Wethered

Retailers need to build relationships online, manage store footfall with a virtual queuing system and booking system, invest in their in-store tech and apps, and continuously collect customer data.

Last week Zara’s parent company, Inditex, announced it was closing 1,200 stores over the next two years, which raises the question – is Zara feeling the post-lockdown slump in sales more than others?

Net sales fell by 44% in Q1, yet online sales rose by 50%, but Inditex’s decision to close a significant chunk of its Zara stores and invest $3b into its omni-channel offering is part of an ongoing e-commerce and omni-channel drive.

As retail stores reopen, safety has become paramount – as it should be – but in the weeks and months to come, another problem will stand in the way of many retailers, and it’s an omni-channel problem.

Covid-19 has sparked a change in the mindset of the consumer, essentially acting as a catalyst for greater omni-channel demand. It has forced consumers to break their day-to-day patterns and get creative (being trapped indoors for months on end will do that).

Here’s what retailers need to do to build a stronger omni-channel offering during Covid-19:

1) Build stronger relationships through online channels

Retailers can no longer expect consumers to aimlessly wander their stores.

When the lockdown first began and retail sales started to plummet, many retailers feared the worst. It was all about quick sales and cashflow (and for some, it still is), but others came to a different conclusion: with the right messaging, brands can still maintain strong and positive relationships with consumers in the long-run.

In today’s environment, consumers don’t want to spend hours shopping in stores. When asked about successful physically distanced shopping, the Guardian’s menswear fashion editor, Helen Seamons, gave some advice to shoppers: “The age of the aimless browse is over for now. And the etiquette of flicking through rails seems doubtful. So do an online recce and save screenshots to your phone of pieces you like. That way you can ask staff where they are, and reduce your wandering-about time.”

That’s why many retailers are choosing to take their one-to-one service offerings online over video or phone appointments. For instance, electronics companies are pairing customers wanting technical advice and support with their tech experts over a video conference call, and banks are providing customers with financial health checks, and department stores are offering virtual styling advice for anything from cosmetics, to clothes, to furniture.

Learn more about hosting virtual appointments

Embracing the new-found intimacy of video-calling, retailers are also investing big in their online events, hosting educational webinars, product tutorials and launches, interviews with celebrities or influences, and dance parties.

Find out more about hosting online events

2) Manage in-store customers across multiple channels

Before the lockdown took place, 77% of UK consumers were avoiding trips to non-essential stores, and while stores may be reopening, many customers are still concerned about their safety.

That’s why many retailers are refusing to let their customers queue outside their stores, and instead are employing digital queuing systems and time-slot scheduling software to eliminate the need for queues altogether.

Qudini’s queue management system provides customers with a queue position, real-time updates and an estimated wait time.

Virtual queues allow customers to join a queue using a QR code, and then receive a position in the queue and wait-time estimate which they can track via text message and weblink.

Learn more about virtual queues

Other retailers are asking customers to prebook time-slots through their website, app or over the phone before entering a store, which allows customers to show up at a the agreed upon time and browse the store without having to queue.

Learn more about time-slot scheduling software

These approaches not only reduce waiting times, it also allows retailers to seamlessly monitor the number of customers in store at any given time and ensure social distancing standards are in place.

3) Make your app standout

Some retailers still view apps as a secondary e-commerce platform, but over the last few years they’ve morphed into places where consumers can engage with brands on an entirely different level.

Nike’s app allows in-store customers to add products to the fitting rooms. Source: Nike

At Nike’s House of Innovation in New York, for instance, if a consumer likes the look of a product on one of its mannequins, they can scan the QR code on the display using the Nike app and see the product, check for in-store availability and sizing, and send their request to the virtual bag where they can try it on in the fitting rooms.

Another great example of a powerful app is cosmetics company, Sephora, which has a ‘store mode’ functionality that notifies sales assistants as soon as a connected customer arrives, informing the assistant of preferences and purchase history immediately, serving up relevant offers and exclusives.

4) Utilize in-store technology

To keep consumers safe, many retailers are implementing the latest technology to help fight the virus. Irish department store retailer, Brown Thomas, which is owned by Selfridges Group, have installed displays showing how many other customers are in the same store at the same time. Apple is scanning customer’s temperature’s before they enter stores. Some jewellers are reportedly introducing ultraviolet boxes that decontaminate items in minutes.

But what will be interesting to see over the next few weeks is where retailers can take in-store technology a step further to not only keep customers safe, but to provide a good experience. The aforementioned Brown Thomas has done this by launching new technology that allows customers to virtually try on make-up.

Source: The New York Times

Another example is in Sephora stores, which allows customers to scans their skin tone to match it to the right foundation, to augmented reality apps that let customers to virtually try products such as false lashes – and everything the customer learns in-store and whatever looks are created are all logged in the customer’s account.

5) Cross-store, cross-channel, cross-country analytics

Key to providing a powerful in-store experience is data. Retailers need to be constantly capturing, analysing and make actions based around customer data. In today’s quickly changing environment, retailers need to know when customers are entering stores, what the journey looks like and how they provide a powerful shopping experience that is safe and engaging.

Qudini’s analytics platform captures over 100 different datapoints

Qudini’s data analytics platform captures data across 100 new data points on a single customer’s experience, including:

Find out more about Qudini’s data analytics platform



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