Some 86% of retailers in the region are looking to increase investment in intelligent automation by 2022, reports one study.

At this stage of the global pandemic, retailers have been surveyed, and it appears they are looking to harness technologies such as intelligent automation, cloud computing and e-commerce mobility to drive survival and growth.

Over 6,300 global respondents, including over 1,200 respondents from the Asia Pacific region (retail executives, store associates and shoppers) participated in an Annual Shopper Study to provide insights on the attitudes, opinions and expectations that are reshaping brick and mortar and online retail due to the global pandemic situation. The study, now in its 12th year, was commissioned by industrial solutions firm Zebra Technologies Corporation.

Highlights for the APAC region

  • 88% of retailers agreed that maintaining real-time inventory visibility was a significant challenge, and 85% said their companies needed better inventory management tools to ensure accuracy.
  • Retailers also cited robot assistance (83%), smart check-out and real-time store IoT platforms (89%) as extremely important to their operations over the next five years.
  • 81% of retailers planned to provide mobile ordering as a fulfilment option by 2021.
  • 70% of retailers were integrating social media within their ecosystem for digital native shoppers to provide feedback.

As businesses reopen and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, the resiliency of retailers and supply chains is being tested more now than ever before, the report’s authors noted. Consumers have completely changed their shopping habits. Also, the frequency and volume of online spending on food has increased across the region, with consumers expressing a preference for in-store self-checkout rather than assistance from cashiers due to safe distancing measures.

The study concludes that retailers need to rethink the safety of the customer journey to meet rising customer expectations, whether it is in-store or via delivery. Click-and-collect, or ‘buy online, pick-up in store’ (BOPIS), are becoming preferred methods of shopping, with 55% of consumers requesting more retailers to offer mobile ordering options. This is forcing businesses to rethink their fulfillment strategies, given that only 36% of respondents agreed that their stores were equipped to fulfill web orders. The study expects this trend to continue, while retailers implement additional solutions that minimize in-store contact and improve customer convenience at the same time.

Said Lim Fang How, Regional Director, Southeast Asia, Zebra Technologies: “The retail industry has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, driving both essential and non-essential retailers to reassess their omnichannel fulfilment capabilities and quickly adapt their operation models. Retailers are now transforming ‘dark stores’ into temporary distribution facilities inside their establishments. As demand continues to increase, retailers should prioritize the expansion of click-and-collect service offerings and invest in technologies that increase shopping capacity and speed. Not only does this reduce in-store traffic and help with social distancing efforts, it can provide retailers inventory with visibility across their retail floor.”

Maximizing technology use

Putting a mobile device into the hands of a retail associate simplifies tasks like inventory management, yet an estimated 64% of retail associates were not equipped to maximize the benefits of technology. In response, retailers are moving away from dated green-screen technology to enterprise-class devices with intuitive, user-friendly interfaces offering smartphone-like operating systems.

According to the report, click-and-collect orders have surged, creating the need for store associates to enable contactless transactions via curbside pickup with handheld mobile computers and tablets. Mobile Point-of-Sale (mPOS) solutions are driving contactless fulfilment by alerting associates of new online orders, enabling them to pack merchandise, label products and print receipts prior to the customers’ arrival.

The study expects the adoption of mPOS solutions to hit 98% by 2026, up from 76% today. The same trend has also been observed for handheld mobile computers with scanners as retail-associate device usage is expected to reach 96% by 2026, up from the current 75%.

Returns are another pain point for shoppers, and this poses a significant challenge for retailers. Up to 51% of retail executives reported that they had started or were planning to start upgrading their returns management technologies in the next five years. Meanwhile, 83% of retailers currently had or planned to implement automated inventory verification systems within the year to advance real-time inventory accuracy.