4 ways retailers can future-proof their businesses

Chad Stoller, Richard Yao / August 2020

Since 2006, global media agency UM’s IPG Media Lab division has been helping retail brands break down the barriers to innovation. With today’s retail landscape fraught with uncertainty, many brands are unsure how to proceed. Here, Chad Stoller, UM’s global chief innovation officer and managing partner of IPG Media Lab, and Richard Yao, manager of strategy and content at IPG Media Lab, share steps retailers can take to future-proof their businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decade’s worth of retail disruption in just a matter of months. For consumers, this crisis has made necessity more important than choice, resulting in digital shopping behaviors and expectations that are more sophisticated than ever. And retailers should expect these newly developed behaviors to stick.

For instance, in May, 83% of U.S. shoppers said the pandemic had changed the way they shop,1 and more than 50% said they may continue to take advantage of curbside pickup services even as restrictions are lifted.2 When it comes to the upcoming holiday season, 74% of U.S. shoppers said they plan to do more online shopping than they did in previous seasons, and 67% will confirm online that an item is in stock before going to buy it.3

A circle graph indicates the following statistic: 74% of U.S. shoppers said they plan to do more online shopping than they did in previous holiday seasons.

These findings underscore why it’s so critical for brands to embrace retail’s changing landscape. As such, we’ve outlined four steps retailers can take to help deliver better shopping experiences to their customers.

Own your omnichannel stack

When the world changed overnight, retailers that already owned their omnichannel stack had a head start. As retailers rebuild, developing an omnichannel approach should be a key focus.

Some brands may be challenged by the logistics of running an omnichannel business, but the long-term benefits will be worth it.

Some brands may be challenged by the logistics of running an omnichannel business, but the long-term benefits will be worth it. For example, adopting contactless payment systems can provide faster checkouts. And managing a synchronous inventory lets retailers ensure that the stock on websites matches the products available on store shelves. Plus, AI-powered assistants and chatbots deliver help when in-person customer service isn’t possible because of store closings.

Break down old silos

Creating a holistic customer experience is about implementing your omnichannel stack flexibly across physical and digital environments. By reorganizing teams and prioritizing new tactics, retailers can eliminate old silos that once separated physical and digital retail operations.

To start, consider reconfiguring customer relationship management systems and point-of-sale systems, consolidating customer data, and rejecting siloed media-buying habits. Brands that retool their strategies to ensure a smooth shopping experience across online and offline channels will be one step ahead of their competitors.

Ease retail pain points with mobile integration

In the near term, adopting new mobile innovations can help brands address today’s retail pain points. Advanced ordering, contactless payments, and in-store wayfinding are all important parts of the shopping journey that require mobile integration.

With the holiday shopping season approaching, retailers would be wise to ensure they’re mobile ready. In fact, Google research tells us that 53% of shoppers that plan to shop this season said they’ll choose to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.4 And 47% of planned shoppers said they’ll use options to buy online, pickup in-store, or use curbside pickup.5 Retailers should consider scan-and-go mobile checkout or leverage mobile devices to make buy online, pickup in-store or curbside pickup a reality. A robust set of mobile services can also help drive traffic to stores via direct-response ads. 

A circle graph indicates the following stat: 53% of shoppers said they plan to shop at stores that offer contactless shopping.

Double down on your commitment to evolution

Relentless evolution is the only way to keep pace with changing consumer behaviors. Soon, services we once considered nice-to-haves will become must-haves. Same-day delivery is quickly becoming an expectation, and click-and-collect will become a more synchronous service to meet consumer demand.

Relentless evolution is the only way to keep pace with changing consumer behaviors.

Likewise, social commerce offers brands another opportunity for evolving their relationship with consumers. Many retailers already use social media for audience engagement, but they can unlock additional value by owning the entire customer journey on social channels. 

What’s next: Future-proofing retail

As one of our Lab experts likes to say, e-commerce used to serve brick-and-mortar, but now brick-and-mortar serves e-commerce. When the retail landscape — and the world at large — has been turned on its head, it’s important to respect the power of audiences and data. As the retail landscape churns, the most successful brands will be those identifying new ways to improve customer touchpoints across all platforms. 

The road ahead is uncertain but not insurmountable. By keeping the shopper experience at the forefront and accelerating innovation across every part of their businesses, smart brands can thrive even during the most unpredictable times.

3 ways brands can prepare for a post-pandemic world