Technology key for retail continuation during COVID19 Pandemic

By Gary Lee, Chief Revenue Officer, B2M Solutions.

The retail sector cannot escape the economic impact of COVID-19. But, despite the difficult economic outlook, is now the time to invest in technology? With the advent of social distancing - and the requirement to continue adhering to this practice as physical stores reopen - how many of us will be hitting the highstreets? Or is the shift to online shopping set to continue?

2019 saw the UK retail industry sales figures drop to their lowest in 24 years, as lacklustre sales over the peak Christmas trading period failed to give the sector the boost it needed, leading to major job cuts and store closures hitting big chains and well-known department stores on the high street. This included the likes of Debenhams, Mamas and Papas and Mothercare. in addition to this, telecoms giant, Vodafone, closed more than 1,100 stores in Europe as part of its plans to focus more on online transactions.

In sharp contrast to bricks and mortar store closures, last year saw eCommerce growing 3x faster than traditional bricks and mortar retail. Research showed that 51% of consumers were already preferring to shop online, with bricks and mortar stores losing out on over £18 billion in sales each year as consumers found products in-store, before leaving and purchasing online. Experts were already warning that the pressure on high street retailers was expected to continue into 2020 as consumers shifted towards online and business rates increased.

If that was bad, 2020’s COVID19 pandemic is set to bring an economic recession never seen before in our lifetimes. When it comes to online shopping vs. traditional shopping, the marketplace is undergoing a transfiguration the extent of which we haven’t witnessed before. People’s shopping habits have changed as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. March saw online retail sales rise by 74% in average transaction volumes compared with the same period last year according to data from ACI Worldwide. 

The rise in eCommerce sales has been particularly profound in products related to staying indoors. With millions now at home, many consumers are going online to purchase products or services with consumers buying electronics and furniture – to support work, communication, school and entertainment – as well as items such as home goods and DIY products. 

With the current lockdown still in place and retailers mostly restricted to providing their services through eCommerce, a large part of their business continuation will depend on their enterprise mobility strategy and the functionality of operational mobile devices to meet consumer demand. 

Mobile devices for retail workers are now, more so than ever before, business-critical. A large part of a retailer’s success is dependent on its mobile device strategy and the functionality of operational devices. From the trusted mobile devices that warehouse staff and delivery drivers so heavily rely on to POS systems in stores it is essential that they remain fully operational at all times. 

These devices need to be in perfect working order. If retailers fail to properly monitor the health of their devices, delivery drivers and warehouse personnel could be stuck with faulty or failed equipment resulting in serious downtime. So, what happens when something goes wrong rendering these business-critical devices useless? Retailers need to be looking into how much money could be saved by improving the technology – and most importantly the management of that technology – employees are using. By empowering IT teams with tools like real-time monitoring and device analytics software, Retailers will enable their IT teams to become proactive rather than reactive, identifying mobile device issues and take pre-emptive actions limiting the likelihood of devices failing or becoming faulty and reducing employee downtime.

Real-time monitoring enables retailers to monitor the health of their mobile devices meaning they can identify when a device is likely to fail through faulty hardware, network connections or buggy applications before it becomes an issue that affects operations at key times. Taken individually, these are small problems however the knock-on effect is vast - having this information about their business-critical technology is vital to retailers.

For brands to survive it's essential that they remain competitive. Although exploring a change in technology during a downturn may sound counterintuitive, an investment now will lead to significant gains in the long run by cutting waste and improving employee productivity in a retail environment where mobile device uptime and availability is more critical than ever.. In essence, small margins such as this could very well determine the success and failures of a retailer in these times of uncertainty.

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