Blog: Retail’s Flexibility in Responding to the Current Pandemic

May 18, 2020  |  REINT JAN HOLTERMAN

These are turbulent times for a lot of people. Many have been severely impacted by the current pandemic, which is affecting the way they live, work, relax and interact. Also many industries are impacted, with the retail industry being heavily hit. Unfortunately, some retailers have been forced to temporarily close their doors, while others are rethinking the way they can continue to service their customers to be compliant with new healthcare regulations. This article looks at some of the inventive ways that retailers are responding to the pandemic crisis.

The Chinese word for crisis, 危机 pronounced as weiji, is depicted as two characters. The first character, wei, stands for ‘danger’, and the second one is often misinterpreted as ‘opportunity’. In fact, ji translates more exactly to ‘a changing point’ or ‘a new event’ – which leads me to believe that the translation of weiji is in fact something like ‘a dangerous situation that leads to change or to new events’.

I’ve been thinking about that word frequently these days, as the retail industry reorients itself to prepare for an unprecedented future. Whether retailers are able to take the events and their fallout as a challenge or an opportunity, it’s clear that the crisis will expedite change already in the pipeline. 

I’m encouraged by recent stories about how retailers are finding new ways to serve their customers in accordance with social distancing rules. For example, ‘store-centric’ retailers are now quickly expanding their online services capacity. Think about 7-Eleven, which is partnering with on-demand delivery providers Postmates and Doordash to meet the increased demand for home deliveries. “How convenience is defined is completely different today than it was just a month ago,” said Chris Tanco, COO of 7-Eleven, in a statement. The increased demand for home delivery caused by stay-at-home orders accelerated 7-Eleven’s previous plans to provide wider access to on-demand services.

Another example is Carrefour Belgium, which recently introduced a self-scan feature to its app. This allows its hypermarket customers to keep the necessary distance and avoid physical contact. With the roll-out of Smartscan, Carrefour customers can now scan items in the stores using their own smartphone. This was already something Carrefour Belgium wanted to do, yet due to COVID-19 the implementation got a much higher priority and was carried out in less than a month. 

In Albania, grocery chain SPAR has been rapidly responding to changing customer needs as result of the pandemic. Initially started as a home delivery service offering only three different essential grocery box options, the retailer has rapidly expanded into a full online offering of around 1,000 food and non-food items, which can be ordered via Whatsapp, Viber and telephone. In Saudi Arabia, SPAR introduced click-and-collect shopping options for its customers in Riyadh, who can now order groceries via Whatsapp and pick them up through a drive-thru service. This helps its customers to stay safe at home as much as possible, reducing the footfall in the stores and increasing convenience. 

These examples are all coming from the grocery vertical, but other retail segments are innovating their store concepts as well, such as in electronics. MediaMarkt Poland and Currys PC World, for example, have enabled new options like live video links with sales experts and personal drive-thru pick-up points for online orders. 

According to Jason Goldberg at Forbes, “the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the inevitable digital disruption of commerce.” As some changes will take place at a slow pace, more in an evolutionary way, other changes, like those we’re experiencing today due to the pandemic, are more like a revolution.

This brings me to Storevolution™, both an approach and a program that Diebold Nixdorf has developed to support retailers in managing the continuous process of change in Retail. Built around four guiding principles—consumer centricity, store digitalization, high connectivity and Store as a Service—Storevolution effectively helps retailers address key changes and innovations as they are happening, whether in an evolutionary or revolutionary manner. It is a change philosophy that supports retailers in designing, enabling and operating frictionless consumer and staff journeys. And as promised in a previous blog article, I’ll share a little more about each of these four guiding principles:

Consumer Centricity
Storevolution starts with the consumer journey. Based on a consumer's needs, brand preferences and purchase history, retailers can design and enable appealing consumer journeys with a personal touch. And in a consumer-centric world, thinking only in terms of store boundaries is no longer relevant. The future is about weaving online and offline (O2O) experiences together, by centralizing and sharing the same business logic to provide a consistent, frictionless consumer experience.

Store Digitalization
Store digitalization is the second guiding principle, and is all about using technology—meaning hardware, software and services—to design and enable better journeys for consumers and staff. Self-service technology, digital apps and mobile self-scanning solutions fall into this category. Since no one knows for sure what the future will look like, flexibility—based on openness and modularity—built into digitalization efforts is a critical success factor.

High Connectivity
Storevolution is not meant as a way to predict the future, but rather to help "future proof" today's investments. That is why high connectivity and openness is needed, allowing retailers to be more “adaptive” and ready for future changes, whenever they may arise. High connectivity is based on a platform approach with a set of standardized APIs for faster and easier integration. This minimizes integration efforts and simplifies change management. Standard interfaces allow you to streamline the integration with third-party software solutions, enable future migrations and enjoy a future-proofed solution.

Store as a Service
Mapping out consumer journeys and having all touchpoints set up accordingly is one thing. Making sure they are “always-on” and 365x24 available is quite another. With “Store as a Service” as the final guiding principle, the complexity of all self-service apps and in-store touchpoints coming from multiple vendors is managed by a single partner and provided back as a single service.

In a next article, I will give a couple of real-live examples where Storevolution was applied in practice, and some of the benefits it brought to retailers working with this approach and program. In case you cannot wait till the next article, you can now also download the whitepaper “Storevolution: Retail in the Age of the Consumer” and start reading more on the backgrounds, examples and results of applying Storevolution!

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