How retailers are using technology to respond to changing shopping habits

As the coronavirus outbreak accelerates the shift in consumer behaviour, how are retailers using technology to keep customers engaged?

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Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives, Eat Out to Help Out, Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Rule of Six, Local Lockdown, Tier 1, 2 or 3, Circuit Breaker.

The mixed messages throughout the entire pandemic provides enough content for Twitter anecdotes and shareable memes to last us a lifetime. But this dance of the Hokey Cokey is having a detrimental effect on consumers.

Whether it’s affecting their confidence to spend as we face an uncertain economic future, living in areas under increased lockdown measures, or just simply planning to stay at home to ride out the storm, shopper’s habits have changed – potentially forever.

Retail was already in the midst of significant change following a lack of footfall before the pandemic struck, with the phrase “the death of the high street” being regularly used to describe towns with shuttered stores up and down country.

But the industry’s suffering went from bad to worse when the government enforced the closure of non-essential stores during the height of lockdown earlier this year.

While essential stores, including grocers and DIY shops, are capitalising on heightened consumer demand, the majority of retailers – especially fashion – struggled, with a number of brands already falling into administration.

“As your lifestyle changes due to Covid-19, so do your needs and wishes. In consequence, some categories have faired well and others have not,” says shopper insight expert, Iona Carter, founder of Tracer Insight Consultancy, pointing to the exponential increase in demand for electronics and outdoor clothing, camping gear and fire pits during lockdown.

And while non-essential stores are now allowed to trade again, people aren’t rushing to go back to their old ways of shopping when they realise they can buy the majority of their goods online.

Technology to save the day

Retailers are already acting on these changing consumer habits and are either adapting their business models or implementing technology to help customers feel more at ease when shopping and to encourage shoppers back into store.

“Touchless is, of course, a big thing,” says Carter, who points to Lush’s ‘Lush Lens’ app, which allows shoppers to scan products in store to for further information and to know the price without having to pick up the item. A similar example is Coca-Cola’s touchless vending machine which uses QR codes to allow customers to ‘mobile pour’ themselves a drink.

Andy Halliwell, senior director and retail analyst at consultancy firm Publicis Sapient, agrees that safety has been a key driver of new technology implementations over the past six months.