Digitalization can certainly help, but having a determined mindset to fill niche preferences is key, according to one retail-tech expert.

As shoppers become digitally savvier and more open to e-commerce, they tend to make an online purchase if they cannot get an item in-store or vice-versa.

In a Global Shopper Study of over 5,000 shoppers, retail associates and retail executives to gauge their views about brick-and-mortar and online retail, 72% of respondents were using mobile ordering. Up to 82% of those shoppers expected to continue using it in the future.

With the pandemic disrupting the retail industry, the study, commissioned by Zebra Technologies had found that shoppers were seeking a safe, speedy, and convenient shopping experience while maintaining basic expectations. The figures show that 70% of APAC respondents preferred direct delivery of items rather than picking them up at a store, and 65% preferred shopping at stores with contactless payment options.

DigiconAsia had the opportunity to discuss the study with Zebra’s APAC Vertical Solutions Lead (Healthcare and Retail), George Pepes.

George Pepes, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead, Healthcare and Retail, Zebra Technologies

DigiconAsia: Does investing in analytics, mobile ordering, smart checkout, touch computers and mobile computers mean that staff must undergo intensive training?

George Pepes (GP): With the implementation of any new technologies, suitable training will need to be extended to enable the staff to fully utilize the new tools they have on hand to help them achieve better work results.

The bottom line is that retailers who embrace and invest in these technologies will be positioned to meet shopper expectations for safety, efficiency, and convenience and close the trust gap between shoppers and retail executives.

That said, if retailers were to invest and adopt the right technology, that would be half the battle won. For instance, as Android is the world’s leading mobile operating system, if retailers were to implement an Android-powered enterprise mobile device, it would reduce the staff’s onboarding time required, as staff would most likely be familiar with it. This in turn, allows their staff to fully maximize the new tools they have, to achieve optimal business results within the shortest time possible.

DigiconAsia: Does ‘smart checkout’ mean full automation? If so, would this result in people losing their jobs?

GP: Smart checkout does not necessarily mean automation. To put it simply, smart checkout is a better and more efficient way to streamline the checkout process by equipping store associates with the right technologies to extend their effectiveness and ultimately increase customer satisfaction and retail sales.

These technologies include scanners that allow retailers to meet the demands of their highest-volume point-of-sale (POS) lanes, as they enable faster-than-ever checkout in both cashier-manned and self-checkout lanes. Mobile point of sale (mPOS) solutions also allow retailers to implement a more efficient system, reduce the time shoppers spend in the queue and minimize abandoned sales as these solutions can process payment at the point of decision.

Smart checkout can include automation through technologies like radio-frequency identification (RFID) which can be used to track inventory and gives retailers real-time asset visibility needed to streamline operations—a technology used for the unmanned stores that have been gaining popularity recently.

DigiconAsia: What are some of the current issues in retail automation security, safety, and privacy in Asia?

GP: Many cybercriminals are constantly preying on vulnerabilities in devices and networks. As many retailers turn to digitalization and IoT solutions, the connected devices have created numerous access points that are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

It is crucial that retailers pick the right technologies that are purpose-built with security in mind. Once this privacy-by-design approach is in place, it would ensure their customers’ data to be as secure as possible. This will prioritize shopper safety in retail operations from innovative retail point of sale (POS), customer service to returns solutions.

Privacy protocols essential to handling personal data, like encryption and data housing, must be included in retailers’ operations framework. The pandemic has accelerated innovation, growth, new experiences, and faster fulfilment. Customers are still craving the essentials: speed, convenience and now safety with frictionless checkouts, accurate pricing, item availability, and blended in-store and online experiences.

It has become clear that retailers must embrace a digital mindset to deliver the essentials and meet customers where, when, and how they shop. Retailers equipping their store associates with the right technology will grant them inventory visibility, insightful analytics, and efficient store layouts.

These tools enable them to deliver better experiences, create a loyal customer base and solidify their standing, and their future, in the industry. DigiconAsia thanks George for his insights.