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Technology in Retail: Spearheading the ‘New Convenience’

Steven Jones

Steven Jones
Engagement Director - Commercial

Back in early 2020, the NRF reported that convenience was taking an increasingly important role in shoppers decision making, with a third of consumers saying they had less free time compared with 2015. Way back then, pre-COVID, more than half of purchase decisions were influenced by convenience and both online and store channels were playing their parts in smoothing the buying journey – most notably through research (online) and checkout (in store).

Roll forward two years and retailers in the UK are moving into the winter of 21/22 having survived (if they are lucky) a global pandemic and one of the biggest sustained blows to retail that we have even seen. Leaders are dusting themselves off and, looking forward, asking what retail needs to look like to recover, survive, and thrive in a post-pandemic market. And consumers are finding themselves settling into a new normal, emerging with vaccinations and – in many cases – lighter wallets, ready to hit the high streets and start buying again.

So, is convenience still as important as it was pre-COVID and are consumers now looking for more from retailers to make their shopping journeys – and their lives – easier and more fulfilling?

Get access to The Future of Technology in Retail Report

In a unique study looking at retail from both sides of the counter, Ensono Digital have partnered with Auth0 to examine the consumer and retailer take on the future state of retail – post-pandemic – as we move into a period of widespread digital transformation in the face of economic uncertainty.

Our research was conducted in August 2021 with Censuswide, surveying 500 Technology decision makers from UK retailers with annual revenue of more than £100m. We also talked to more than 2,000 retail consumers across the UK, spanning a full range of socio-economic, gender, and age demographic variables.

Following numerous lockdowns, isolation periods and concerns over safety, retail consumers have – over the past 18 months – rewritten the traditional shopping journey. Change happened fast, with McKinsey reporting in 2020 that within two months of the start of the pandemic ‘we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption ’. Since then, we have collectively been given the opportunity to break old habits and start new ones, reframe priorities, and expect more from retailers. With more cross-generational appreciation of ecommerce, and a raw collective memory of closed stores and lack of physical browsing opportunities, consumer needs have become more nuanced, and retail leaders – keen to emerge from the pandemic slump more resilient and better equipped to deal with any future disasters – are more aware of the challenge to deliver an integrated omnichannel experience that is experiential, frictionless, and tailored to the individual’s needs.  

This is the new convenience, and experts expect it to reap rewards. In fact – in a new survey by Retail Week stated:

43% of the UK chief executives said they expect sales in 2022 to be significantly higher versus 2021, with 45% expecting them to be slightly higher.

The new convenience will be underpinned by the customers’ need to be known throughout the shopping journey and the retailer’s ability to elegantly gather, manage and utilise that data. The question is, are consumers prepared to trade personal information in exchange for a more valuable, sustained relationship? New research from Ensono Digital and Auth0 demonstrates that the opportunity is there for the taking, with the bulk of millennials willing to give up their details as long as it leads to new offerings from retailers.   And retailers are prepared to invest in the technology with – according to Retail Week – 88% of retail leaders looking to invest in personalisation and digital experience in the coming year. The Ensono Digital and Auth0 report dives deeper and finds that technology decision makers agree, with data insights proving ‘to be a foremost priority for TDMs when deliberating customer retention strategies.’

Whether offering an opportunity to touch and try product before making a purchase online, acting as a click and collect pick up location, or even fulfilling the entire end-to-end shopping experience, physical stores still play a part in the new convenience model. Future stores just need to work harder, leaner and with more flexibility, and integration needs to be slick and seamless. This is where technology plays an essential role. The shift to e-commerce is here to stay so retailers need reshape to work for the consumer, embracing the advantages or AI, AR, and VR, offering in-store experiences that can’t be replicated online, and using technology to remove store friction points – such as product searches, stock check, checkout, or extended ranges. As Kate Ancketill, CEO of GDR states in the Ensono Digital Future of Retail report:

“Stores have the opportunity to deliver ‘the good kind of friction that slows shoppers down, engages them emotionally and viscerally, and delivers unique experiences only possible in real life.”

Finally, the new convenience is still – at its core – about consumer choice. Now we want a choice of products, a choice of fulfilment routes, and a choice of payment methods. The post-COVID shopper has learned that if they want to shop from home, they can get pretty much anything that they want, and someone will be prepared to deliver it to them. The successful retailer will be making sure that they have the technology, the processes, and the infrastructure to get their full range to any customer, however they want to receive it. They’ll be offering a range of payment options, both in store and online, with mobile POS, split payments cross-channels, and enabling the ‘just walk out’ model of ultimate convenience shopping.

From customer data to AR, from endless aisle to buy now, pay later the new convenience is led by technology across the entire customer journey. Technology decision makers understand this, and the C-suite are starting to wake up to it too. It looks to us like 2022 is set to mark the beginning of a new era, with a digital-led retail model becoming the norm, and business-savvy tech leaders poised to lead the evolution of retail.

To discover more about the digital role in the future of retail, download the Ensono Digital and Auth0 research paper here.

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