Retail Therapy: Looking Back to Move Forward

By Laura Peck

Through a year of uncertainty, our retail technology clients cut through the noise, serving as thought leaders and offering solutions across the media landscape.

Welcome to the second edition of Matter’s Retail Therapy, where our team of retail technology pros share industry trends and predictions straight from those who know best — our clients. Read our first post to see this year’s holiday shopping predictions.

Well, it’s December. We’ve made it through the summer, the back-to-school shopping season and the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday trifecta. As the holiday shopping season continues to unfold, the retail industry is bracing for more of what we’ve come to expect in 2020: uncertainty.

As the retail sector takes stock of the holiday shopping season and assesses lessons from 2020, let’s look back at some of the thought leadership our retail technology clients have shared with the world to help guide companies through this year’s unpredictability: 

Businesses must learn to live with supply chain disruptions.

Wall Street Journal: Grocers Stopped Stockpiling Food. Then Came Coronavirus.

Retail sales of paper towels, black beans and tuna rose roughly 150% in the week ended March 14 vs the year-earlier week, according to market-research firm Nielsen. About 90% of shoppers said they experienced outages of some items, and a third said most items were out of stock, in a survey of 1,000 people by supply-chain consultancy Blue Yonder. ­

WWD: Coronavirus Impacts Supply Chain, Crucial Contingency Plans Needed

Ronen Lazar, cofounder and CEO at Inturn, an off-price inventory software company, said the “disruption that coronavirus is creating within the supply chain cannot be understated. As inventory is delayed by weeks or months, brands should prepare for an onslaught of potentially out of season inventory. The brands equipped to efficiently optimize their inventory in real time are the ones that will be best positioned to weather the storm.”

The rise of E-commerce and proliferation of COVID-19 are transforming retail.

Associated Press: Black Friday sees record online as US shoppers stay home

Even with that drop, Black Friday will still likely end up as one of the biggest in-person shopping days in the U.S. this year, [Sensormatic Solution’s Brian] Field said. He thinks many people will still shop for the holidays in person, but will choose mid-week days when crowds are smaller. Heavier in-store discounts and concerns about lengthy shipping times could also draw shoppers closer to Christmas.

Bloomberg: Delivery Cost Is Top Last-Mile Issue in Retail Logistics

It’s Amazon’s world and retailers are all just trying to live in it. That’s one potential takeaway from Blue Yonder’s online survey of 300 senior executives charged with logistics and fulfillment at U.S.-based firms. With retailers’ e-commerce revenue as a share of total sales increasing by 33% since before Covid-19 lockdowns, according to the poll, fulfillment challenges, including with the supply chain, abound. One very large issue: the rising cost of delivery in the final mile of the chain.

Retailers are utilizing innovative technology to adapt to uncertainty. 

Forbes: The New Science Of Counting Shoppers: The Tech Tracking Customers In The Age Of Coronavirus

Sensormatic is leveraging the traffic counting cameras and sensors it already had in place in its clients’ stores to create real time occupancy and social distancing density reports for those retailers. Stores that have to restrict traffic to 25% or 50% of capacity get alerts when the number of shoppers approaches those thresholds. One solution Sensormatic has created, Brown said, is a traffic light system that collects occupancy data and uses traffic signals — red for wait and green for enter — to regulate traffic at a store entrance.

Wall Street Journal: DHL’s Warehouse Management Business Makes It Easier to Onboard Robots

DHL Supply Chain and Blue Yonder Inc. over the past year have been collaborating on Robotics Hub, a software platform designed to more quickly integrate robotics systems into warehouse operations. It is one of several efforts in the industry to improve the usefulness of robots in warehouses, where they are increasingly common. Facial Recognition Goes Beyond Simple Loss Prevention

Integrating facial recognition technology with access control has uses that go beyond loss prevention — by training the software to recognize employees, suppliers, contractors and others who might require access to the premises, it is possible to enable touchless access to stores. For instance, in the past, someone making a delivery might be granted temporary access with a keycard or key fob, but at a time when a global pandemic is still raging, touchless entry is much safer for all parties. (Authored by Axis Communications)

It’s time to rethink in-store shopping and SKUs. 

Diginomica: The e-commerce push isn’t enough – how should retailers apply data in the pandemic economy?

Zebra says that effective retail analytics can identify patterns around inventory accuracy – and the impact of in-store pickup on SKUs that could go out of stock. Analytics can help solve per-store labor allocation, including curbside pickup demand surges. 

One Door Blog: Merchandising Strategies for The New Normal

Retailers will need to recession-proof assortments. Much like after the 2008 recession, people are making choices driven by their budget. Although shoppers are making fewer trips to the store, we’ve seen larger basket sizes during the pandemic to load their pantries. This trend is likely to continue. Importantly, retailers are making decisions on where to hold assortments. With more subscription and delivery models available, which inventory needs to be housed in distribution centers, and which in-store? 

It all comes down to consumer confidence.

New York Post: Clothing stores changing fitting rooms for coronavirus re-openings

“I’ve heard retailers try to discourage shoppers from picking up items if they are not buying it,” noted retail consultant Hedgie Bartol of Axis Communications. “Can you imagine if someone wanted to try on a bathing suit at a store that has such a policy.” The problem, retail experts say, is that the government has issued very little guidance about the sale of apparel, which is sowing confusion on how to handle clothing that’s been in fitting rooms.

CNBC: Shoppers across the country are retreating again as coronavirus cases surge

Thirty-seven states, plus Washington, D.C., have trended down over the past two weeks on a year-over-year basis, according to ShopperTrak senior director Brian Field. Thirteen states, meanwhile, have continued to show improvement in traffic, he said. The divide between the two, according to Field, is largely driven by the safety precautions that are being taken in each of those states. Of the 38 states with traffic falling again, only eight of those are requiring masks statewide, Field said. Of the 13 on the rise, 11 require the general public to wear masks, he said.

Total Retail: Turning to Tech: How Data and Devices Can Help Retailers Comply With COVID-19 Safety Measures

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a retailer’s ability to operate safely depends on the dual effectiveness of its social distancing measures and sanitation protocols. It’s the new reality of 2020, which only intensified with the resurgence of the virus across the U.S. in July. That showcased exactly why retailers must have the right precautionary measures in place to prepare for a potential second or third wave of the virus. Without them, stores will have no choice but to close their doors again this coming fall. (Authored by Zebra Analytics)

It’s clear: Retail and supply chain professionals are essential workers. 

One Door Blog: 7 Things to Consider When It’s Time To Reopen Stores

The health and well-being of your employees is your number one priority. During this time of crisis, everyone is dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity about the future. Bringing associates back to work and asking them to put the store back together can put additional stress on an already-stressful situation. Now more than ever is the time to support your store teams. Frequent communication will help managers and associates know they are valued.

Retail Touchpoints: As Retailers Use E-Commerce to Combat COVID-19, Should Off-Price Follow Suit?

In order to help accommodate for the lost thrill of in-store shopping, off-price retailers can leverage prescriptive analytics solutions to personalize their e-Commerce customer journeys. Prescriptive analytics compiles in-depth data on inventory needs, which can be used to prioritize specific products based on consumer demand and pricing transparency. In turn, an off-price retailer can provide a wide array of the exact items consumers are looking for from the most popular brands on the market — all at a discounted price. This can help re-instill that “hitting the jackpot” feeling coveted by customers.  (Authored by INTURN)