The new technology and innovation emerging in retail as a result of COVID-19
To state the obvious, COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on business as usual. Over the last few months, disruption to retail’s warehouses and workforces has been commonplace whilst logistics networks have suffered unprecedented delays. All non-essential stores in the UK and in many countries worldwide were closed for a number of months, with some brands unfortunately shutting their doors for good.
However, there is opportunity arising from the pandemic’s chaos. ZigZag Global takes a look at new innovation and technology that looks set to take centre stage as retail gets back on its feet.
Whilst the thermal imaging cameras may not be seen as new technology for anyone that’s ever seen a helicopter pursuit on a police reality TV show, its use in retail certainly is. Shoppers with COVID-19 or other virus-like symptoms will typically have a higher than average body temperature and thus identifying those individuals before they enter the store will keep retailer’s employees and customers safer.
Avoira is a company at the forefront of adapting this technology for retailers having “developed temperature detection kits…to offer a range of temperature screening bundles to suit all types of buildings and industry sectors”. Once a symptomatic shopper is detected, security guards can be notified or even gates permitting them into the stores can be closed.
Augmented Reality mirrors
Fitting rooms could become a thing of the past. Stock used in fitting rooms may have to be quarantined for up to 72 hours, meanwhile staff will likely need to be on hand to disinfect rooms after every use – indeed many customers may not feel safe using them. A solution to this issue could well lie in Augmented Reality (AR).
The likes of Amazon and H&M are getting closer to developing augmented reality and smart-mirror designs that seamlessly allow customers to see what clothes look like on them. This could be a safe replacement for changing rooms in stores in the future, but we are probably far off the world in which every retail consumer has one of these mirrors in their bedroom, or even a simpler app version.
QR Codes and stock level indicators
There is undoubtedly going to be further innovation to reduce the amount of touching people do in-store. Carrier services immediately introduced no signature confirmations and curb-side drop offs at the start of the pandemic to reduce their drivers coming in contact with customers. Hema introduced scannable QR codes last year to allow customers to get more information about the product. If the QR codes were used on signs on the shelves, the need for customers to touch the items first would be negated.
It may be more difficult to implement across fashion, especially footwear, where customers would prefer to try the product on or feel the material. However, QR codes could be used to show eco-credentials whilst stock level displays could prevent needless browsing for the correct sizes of apparel.
If you tried to visit the brick-and-mortar retail stores when they reopened on the 15th June, there’s no doubt that you will have been faced with some lengthy queues. With social distancing measures expected to see out the year at the very minimum, the potential to queue could keep people off the high-street. With this in mind, technology around signing into a virtual queue through your mobile could vastly improve the customer experience. Mish, a lingerie fashion label, launched an online appointment system to allow customers to book private one-to-one sessions. The tech from Fresha eliminates the need for queues and gives a better opportunity for staff to disinfect items and changing areas.
Autonomous shopping carts
Another retail innovation originating from China that could become far more relevant in a post-COVID-19 world is autonomous shopping carts. 7Fresh’s shopping trolleys follow the browsing shopper around the store and prevent the need for unnecessary transfer of germs between customers.
Trolley Wash Services claim “the shopping trolley is proven to be one of the largest virus and bacterial spinners in public spaces.” With this in mind, we could certainly see innovation in how the trolleys are disinfected or indeed how we use them at all. Whilst trolleys are certainly less commonplace in most fashion retailer stores, you could envisage them at Primark for instance.
Pop Up shops
An innovative solution to bringing back excitement and intrigue to the high streets could be the increased use of Pop Up shops. The UK already has a big Pop Up Shop scene, with companies such as Appear Here advertising 1000s of rentable spaces across London, in addition to further afield in New York and Paris. Storefront claims temporary retail could soon be boasting annual revenues exceeding £60million, as Pop Up shops offer retailers the opportunity to optimise stock levels, target areas where consumer confidence is less affected by the pandemic, and potentially save on social distancing set up costs.
As eCommerce continues to grow, naturally, so will return rates. ZigZag is constantly investing in its returns solution to ensure it is adapting to the increasing and changing demands of retail consumers. Returns come in contact with a number of different parties throughout its journey to a new customer or back to the retailer, so coronavirus tracking may be a required innovation to allow for smarter and safer quarantine decisions. As Pop Up Shops become more commonplace, or stores are closed and converted to distribution centres, returns solutions will have to keep pace and adapt. Stay tuned as we will have some developments to share in the not too distant future.
We hope this has given you an insight into the kind of innovation we may see in retail over the coming months. From QR codes to Pop Up shops, the possibilities are endless, and there are likely many more technologies we don’t yet know about.