The lockdown and social distancing measures caused the COVID-19 pandemic have irretrievably altered consumer behaviour, accelerating the adoption of smart technologies such as IoT and robot assistance as retailers in Asia Pacific boosts their ability to handle online orders.
In the recently released 12th Annual APAC Shopper Study, results showed that 81% of polled retailers in plan to provide mobile ordering as a fulfilment option by 2021. In line with their shifting priorities toward the online storefront, 83% and 89% of polled retailers in the region said robot assistance and real-time store IoT platforms will be extremely important to their operations in the next five years.
Indeed, the study commissioned by Zebra Technologies showed that the region’s retailers are looking to harness technologies like intelligent automation, cloud computing and mobility to drive economic growth.
The study also revealed that one monumental shift relates to the concept of “Economy at Home”, which addresses the way consumers have completely changed their shopping habits.
Most notably, the frequency and of online spending on food has increased across the region, with consumers expressing a preference for self-checkout rather than assistance from cashiers for safe distancing.
To meet rising customer expectations, retailers need to rethink the safety of the customer journey, whether it is in store or via delivery. Click-and-collect, or buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS), are becoming preferred methods of shopping, with 55% of consumers requesting more retailers to offer volume mobile ordering options.
This is forcing businesses to rethink their fulfilment strategies given that only 36% of respondents agreed that their stores are equipped to fulfil web orders. The study expects this trend to continue, while retailers implement additional solutions that minimize in-store contact and improve customer convenience at the same time.
According to Fang-How Lim, regional director for Southeast Asia, Zebra Technologies, the current pandemic is driving both essential and non-essential retailers to reassess their omnichannel fulfilment capabilities – quickly adapting their operation models in a span of a few days.
“Retailers are now transforming ‘dark stores’ into temporary distribution facilities inside their establishments. As demands continue to increase, retailers should prioritise the expansion of click-and-collect service offerings and invest in technologies which increases shopping capacity and speed. Not only does this reduce in-store traffic and help with social distancing efforts, this can provide retailers inventory visibility across their retail floor,” Lim said.
A shift towards more mobile devices
Putting a mobile device into the hands of a retail associate simplifies tasks like inventory management, yet an estimated 64% of retail associates are not equipped to maximize the benefits of technology, according to Zebra Technologies.
In response, retailers are moving away from dated green-screen technology to enterprise-class devices with intuitive, user-friendly interfaces with smartphone-like operating systems.
“The pandemic has proven this true as click-and-collect orders have surged, creating the need for store associates to enable contactless transactions via curbside pickup with handheld mobile computers and tablets. Mobile Point-of-Sale (mPOS) solutions like the ET51 enterprise tablet, TC52 touch computer, TC21 touch computer and ZQ310 mobile printer are driving contactless fulfilment by alerting associates of new online orders, enabling them to pack merchandise, label products and print receipts prior to the customer’s arrival,” Lim said.
Meanwhile, the adoption of mPOS solutions is expected to hit 98% by 2026, up from 76% today. The same trend is also observed for handheld mobile computers with scanners as retail associate device usage is expected to reach 96% by 2026, up from the current 75%.
Returns are another pain point for shoppers and poses a significant challenge for retailers. Up to 51% of retail executives report that they have started or are planning to start upgrading their returns management technologies in the next five years. Meanwhile, 83% of retailers currently have or plan to implement automated inventory verification systems within the year to advance real-time inventory accuracy.