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How Digital Transformation Has Changed Retail Post-2020

In the wake of th COVID-19 pandemic, the shopping habits of the average consumer have shifted from having emphasis on physical locations such as stores to websites and other online platforms. This happened seemingly overnight, with the lockdowns and restrictions in place during the bulk of 2020 having profound effects on the way the retail industry runs and the outlook for the future. Whilst most change that happens in business is slow and over time, many organizations found themselves forced to adapt quickly or close their doors in the face of such a momentous shift in circumstances.

Because of the need to advertise and sell remotely, many retailers shifted their efforts to increasing digital transformation of their organization. So, what is digital transformation? Put simply, it’s the act of rearranging systems to implement new technology and processes using said technology – modernizing the business. In this case, the focus was on online platforms of sale and advertisement, in order to make up for a severe drop in footfall in physical locations. Despite the seemingly abrupt nature of the change, many organizations already had a digital transformation strategy to take advantage of these new avenues and were merely forced to speed up it’s implementation.

In the post-2020 world, it’s more important than ever to see through your digital transformation goals and to implement online ways of contact and sale. Consumers have seen the convenience that such methods brought to them during the pandemic, and aren’t keen to give it up. With the future of the pandemic uncertain thanks to possible resurgences and unknown factors, having the option to go digital is more attractive than ever.

Digital Transformation Trends in 2020

  • Social Media: Social media platforms have existed since the turn of the century, and with wide and dedicated bases they’re an ideal place to begin. Facebook and Twitter have long allowed advertisement on their platforms, with the former allowing businesses to set up pages in order to properly showcase their wares. These both exploded in 2020, with Marketplace often being used as a stopgap whilst Facebook Shops was developed and introduced in mid-2020. While it’s currently only available in the US, it aims to roll out into the UK, Canada and Europe in 2021.

TikTok also introduced a feature that allowed links to product websites to allow for more direct advertisement, with several other platforms changing their policies on advertisement in order to allow businesses to advertise directly on their sites.

  • Virtual Displays and Events: Whenever a new product is launched, there tends to be a conference displaying features and taking Q&A’s. In the midst of the pandemic however, such events weren’t possible to undertake in person so plenty of retailers launched virtual ones in order to make up for it. WIth the technique and technology being more refined as time goes on, it’s quite possible we’ll see a shift towards preferring these kinds of events in the future as they are much easier to coordinate for – no renting out large spaces, no guest limits, no travel, just create a link to your cameras and be ready when the time comes.

Of course this isn’t limited entirely to one-off events. Several online retailers have introduced virtual product displays in order to let customers get a feel of their products despite not actually being there in person. A great example of this is the Specsavers Try-On app which launched in 2016, allowing you to browse what glasses might suit you without leaving the comfort of your own home. Other examples have used 3D software and even VR technology to get the most accurate possible picture through a computer screen.

  • Cloud Computing: One for the back end of retail processes that customers aren’t likely to see in person, advancements in cloud computing have nevertheless proved very valuable both during and after the pandemic. With physical locations limited to very few staff and suffering from a lack of coordination thanks to restrictions and social distancing, many businesses implemented cloud computing in order to keep their information up to date. After all, it’s one thing to pop over to another department and ask how many of a certain item are left without social distancing, but a whole other level of complication with those restrictions in place. Thanks to cloud computing and expanded networks, organizations can be assured that their stock figures and trends are up to date without leaving the office. It was incredibly relevant when management had to work remotely, and is still relevant now.
  • Hybrid Approaches: Making great use of cloud computing and databases, the hybrid approach to retail involves linking your online and offline stores. In doing so you can provide customers with product availability before they even step in the door, link them to locations which are more likely to contain what they want thanks to specialised displays, etc. You can also take advantage of the inter-connectivity to liaise with other locations when a single store doesn’t have the product that the customer needs – both saving the customer time and improving sales opportunities. Further, several organizations have implemented what’s known as Click & Collect services, with consumers able to purchase items online then pick them up in-store at a later time. It’s options and choices that consumers want in the post-2020 world, and hybrid approaches are definitely here to stay.

For a lot of organizations 2020 changed the way things were done, and their consumer base isn’t likely to simply sit by and return to offline means of purchase. Having digital means of sale and advertisement are crucial in today’s market, with many businesses who could not adapt during the pandemic having to close their doors. Once mastered, digital platforms and technologies will be a great boon to your business, especially as time goes on and more and more people grow up with these technologies implemented into their lives on even the most basic scales.

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