Retail transformation: thoughts on issues & opportunities during the pandemic

By    John Garner on  Saturday, September 4, 2021
Summary: Some thoughts on the challenges companies face during these difficult times but also how this can be an opportunity to transform

Retail is going through some really tough times, and expecting discussions about transformation, other than to manage safety and health issues, seems out of place.

There is no one size fits all whether it be online retail on in-store retail. I quite like shopping but in moderation and although I experience both positive and negative experiences with both, the stereotype is that men don't like shopping much offline or online. 

The pre-Covid personas we used to define how to design and define experiences both online and offline need to be changed, but it feels that many designers, planners, strategists have lost touch with the reality of retail and the current psyche of consumers. There are generational gaps in how consumers' behaviours have changed during the pandemic, and that is without even taking into consideration the battles going on that are often described as political that impact retail. 

There is a need to understand and decipher retail consumers' behaviours, expectations and really study not only what has changed but also what new services and process can elevate their experience in such challenging times: how we need to adapt. 

I enjoyed working in retail both at college during the WE and later on because my then mentor always pushed me to be authentic with customers and gain their loyalty. This is so often ignored for short term financial gain, where training and educating employees is an afterthought if even considered. 

The recent projects I have been working on include both E-commerce and Retail Transformation, notably infusing clever digital experiences into the consumer experience. On the one hand, as a consumer, I am exasperated by the lack of privacy and how rampant the sharing of my data has become. I expect there to be a reckoning for companies that ignore basic security but also basic privacy.
On the other hand, I see how a better understanding of their customers allows my clients to adapt, adjust and improve customer experience and a better overall shopping experience. 

It feels like I should have voiced my concerns in meetings where solutions vendors presented would allow companies to know a frighteningly extensive amount of information about them by cross sampling data. I must admit I didn't realise the implications and was amazed at what they said they could infer about clients, including past current and expected future behaviour. 

I came across an example last week of a company called Cheqout that can provide QR codes per table allowing restaurants to get customers to do the servers work: letting customers order directly and pay directly after scanning a QR code. This solution is interesting for the company (although it apparently often leads to a reduction in workforce requirements) as it obviously reduces labor costs and apparently leads to a more efficient process.

Cheqout QR Code to App order screen example QR Code to App order screen example

A concern with QR codes is that scanning them could lead you to a website, a type of PWA or malware created by scammers to catch you off guard and direct you to counterfeit sites, etc.

However, as discussed above, on the topic of privacy concerns, unless you check the links of QR codes, companies can easily use tracking to gather more information about you without you even realising. That leaves me hoping that a company using QR codes will only use such tracking for their own systems, and not resell this tracking information. You can easily imagine 3rd party systems being used in good faith but that the 3rd party company uses tracking and gathers your information without the client company even realising this is happening. And all this, from what seems like an innocuous QR code.

The dramatic increase of online transactions and activities has generated an incredible amount of data, but if companies consider this will inform post pandemic behaviour, it seems to be logically flawed if taken at face value. The pandemic has been an extraordinary event in so many ways. Unless this horrific once in a generation situation and restrictions carries over into an endemic, people's behaviour will change again, once it is over. It is unlikely to go back to the way it was before the pandemic, either.

What I can currently see is that many businesses face some tough decisions, whether they are lucky enough to have flourished during the pandemic or been hard hit. Holding back during a crisis on ways to strengthen services and products and to better serve customers usually only benefits your competitors. It is an opportunity to regroup, rethink and adapt. It is the moment to plan for change, to prepare how the company needs to strengthen its digital systems, train employees, build systems that allow you to evolve swiftly (ex APIs and microservices) without disrupting everything that is already in place.

Article written by  John Garner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Check out the most recent posts from the blog: 
Sunday, September 24, 2023
The reliability & accuracy of GenAI

I question the reliability and accuracy of Generative AI (GenAI) in enterprise scenarios, particularly when faced with adversarial questions, highlighting that current Large Language Models (LLMs) may be data-rich but lack in reasoning and causality. I would call for a more balanced approach to AI adoption in cases of assisting users, requiring supervision, and the need for better LLM models that can be trusted, learn, and reason.

Read More
Saturday, September 23, 2023
From Chatbots to Reducing Society's Technical Debt

I discuss my experience with chatbots, contrasting older rules-based systems with newer GenAI (General Artificial Intelligence) chatbots. We cannot dismiss the creative capabilities of GenAI-based chatbots, but these systems lack reliability, especially in customer-facing applications, and improvements in the way AI is structured could lead to a "software renaissance," potentially reducing society's technical debt.

Read More
Friday, June 16, 2023
The imbalance of power in the AI game: in search of the common good

The article discusses the contrasting debate on how AI safety is and should be managed, its impact on technical debt, and its societal implications.
It notes the Center for AI Safety's call for a worldwide focus on the risks of AI, and Meredith Whittaker's criticism that such warnings preserve the status quo, strengthening tech giants' dominance. The piece also highlights AI's potential to decrease societal and technical debt by making software production cheaper, simpler, and resulting in far more innovation. It provides examples of cost-effective open-source models that perform well and emphasizes the rapid pace of AI innovation. Last, the article emphasises the need for adaptive legislation to match the pace of AI innovation, empowering suitable government entities for oversight, defining appropriate scopes for legislation and regulation, addressing ethical issues and biases in AI, and promoting public engagement in AI regulatory decisions.

Read More
Thursday, June 1, 2023
Japan revises copyright laws for AI

Japan has made its ruling on the situation between Content creators and Businesses. Japanese companies that use AI have the freedom to use content for training purposes without the burden of copyright laws. This news about the copyright laws in Japan reported over at Technomancers is seen as Businesses: 1 / Content Creators: 0 The […]

Read More