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The retail outlook for 2021

Resilient. Is there a better way to sum up New Zealand businesses in 2020? And resilience for those businesses in the retail sector, looking for customers either forbidden or scared to come into town, is going to need to carry on into 2021.

A vaccine might be able to be deployed in 2021 but certainly the borders won’t be open for large-scale tourism. As a country we have been through so much but there’s still more to come. One thing I believe we have though is agility and an openness to new ideas. By using technology, we can speedily rebuild our economy and have it future-proofed and sustainable for any future pandemics. 

In this article, I will be reflecting on the retail industry and the tools, systems and processes to consider for the future. I don’t know all the answers, however from someone who has worked with many New Zealand businesses of all sizes, from start-ups to enterprise for over 20 years, this is my contribution. 

Deliver a single view of your brand across channels

Buyer behaviour has changed during Covid-19 and there has been a huge spike in online shopping. Companies who already have gone through a digital transformation have been able to adapt to the change. Despite the popularity of online shopping, physical stores will remain important and the retailer that acknowledges that customers want to interact with them in a variety of ways, and implements technologies to allow that to happen seamlessly and with little manual input, will have a stable platform to weather any future storm. Omnichannel (or multichannel) is a strategy that enables retailers to sell their products to the end consumer via a variety of channels:

  • Physical stores
  • Phone orders
  • Social media
  • Website and e-commerce 

Customers are looking for a seamless, unified shopping experience so the four channels are no longer linear; more and more a mixing of the channels is occurring and from my observation, retailers aren’t ready for it. Think of the online coffee order for pick-up, or the store-level purchase for delivery later. Even worse, some retailers systems are separate for each channel.

Introducing one system operating all channels allows the efficient management of your supply chain, the back-end processes of your business and a Customer360 relationship with you more important asset.

There are many solutions in the market today that allow all four front-end channels in one system, with all channels feeding into one back-end structure. Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) solutions is the generic name given to these solutions and they differ from point solutions (think Xero, Vend, Unleased, Cin7, external website) in that no integration is required. In New Zealand the leading ERPs are NetSuite, Microsoft Business Central or F&O, and MYOB Advanced. All three products are offered in the cloud, either as true multi-tenanted systems (think Xero) or as single-tenanted systems (not everybody is on the same version).

Retail Technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming. Internet of Things (IoT) will get more and more prevalent. Cloud computing is already here. A question to ask yourself, were you a late adopter to the cloud? Were you hoping it would just be a passing fad? New technology, like the cloud wave of a few years ago, is going to keep coming and retail companies need to research and become accustomed to new tech trends. People will keep buying retail products but how they buy is changing. Investment in technology will ensure your products are where they need to be and that you are able to have a relationship with customers on their terms. The very same technology will protect your margins by making your back-end processes more efficient. 

And of course, streamlining your business processes with technology will allow you to focus on strategy, growth and even newer tech ideas. Will robots in-store take-off? Well, research shows that retail executives believe Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence will increase foot traffic. Have your systems allowed you to step back and think if this picture is in your future?

No matter the generation or era of retail we transition to, a 360-view of your customers and your business processes across all channels will deliver on the shopping experience that matters and margin-increasing efficiencies. Building personal experiences, shopper loyalty and trust in an age of technology comes through embracing the technologies that are going to keep coming. Today we’re in an on-demand economy, we have to respond as our customers want.

Conclusion

Consumer expectations are not only rapidly changing, but what these expectations look like varies from person to person and moment to moment. I believe retailers should take this Covid experience and turn it into an opportunity. Despite the drop in sales and tightening of cashflow, they should use the shock we’ve all received to re-think their retail strategy, to evaluate ways technology can improve business operations, supply chain and retail channels, essentially to take action now.

  • Steve Paea is Sales Manager for Liberate I.T. Working with many companies throughout New Zealand, Steve assists them on their digital transformation, helping them become more efficient and future proof their operations. “My passion is seeing the growth of companies and equipping them with the tools to become both best in class and innovative.”