In retail, the person with the easiest job – as it should be - is the customer. Competition and technology have combined to give the customer infinite choice in terms of how they search for, order, pay and get goods delivered.
And they are taking full advantage of these choices, using as many as seven different channels to support a single purchase, choosing from as many as 10 different ways to pay, and selecting from at least five different delivery options.
While the headlines groan under the weight of bad news for retail on account of inflation, slower than expected recovery in the supply chain and the long shadow cast by Covid over consumer behavior, we can at least be confident that retailers themselves will respond as they always do, with optimism, energy and innovation.
The big challenges are all on the retailers. Online, they are ensuring that they are front and center for these customers, a growth strategy that has seen social media fast becoming full ecommerce platforms, retailers selling third party brands through their own media, and now the dream world of the Metaverse, which in theory will enable the consumer to operate across the entire shopping lifecycle in a self-directed universe.
In-store, retailers are embracing this by developing hybrid brick-and-mortar models that will serve the customer whether they have bought at the shelf-edge or online. As a result, in 2023, we are sure to see an expansion of what has to date largely been an experiment, into the development of dark stores. Dark stores - warehouses or allocated sections of conventional warehouses that are dedicated to fulfilling online orders, often set up exactly like normal stores – allow operators to pick items for either delivery or click and collect.
The conventional store will also continue to evolve in recognition of its now central role in fulfilling online orders, with more space dedicated to click and collect, curb-side delivery and lockers. But the changes are often more subtle; at the shelf-edge, we will see more focus on the amount and mix of information on display.
As the store space has become more crowded with networks that manage shelf labels, self-checkout, wayfinding, digital signage and product location, overall performance, particularly using radio, has fallen. In 2023, retailers will be looking at technologies to fix this problem, namely infrared, and at how different technologies can work to mutual advantage.
Retailers will be looking to automate architecture that enables them to manage real-time pricing, as well as displaying the breadth of information that will enable promotions to perform more effectively than they do currently, while complementing what consumers see online.
Ultimately, retailers’ goals lies beyond simplifying store infrastructure and boosting performance, as they continue to face problems with labor, in terms of numbers, skills and retention. Technology in 2023 will continue to be central to helping them contain spiraling costs, whilst giving their customers the best possible experience in every channel.