How will the retail customer experience be in the post COVID world?


The whole world is still reeling from the aftermath of the global pandemic even after nearly eighteen months. Retail is one of the worst affected business segments across the globe coupled with the challenges and threats posed by E-Commerce. This is a watershed moment for retail and they have no option left but to pivot for a transformed in-store retail experience which is going to last forever now and as such a harsh reality to live with.

The Pre COVID-19 Era And Present

According to a study by Coresight Research by April 2019, nearly 6000 physical retail stores were shut down in the United States which was much more in comparison to 2018 where 5,500 stores were closed in the whole year.

Furthermore according to Forbes, a “Retail Apocalypse” is shaping up based on the findings by investment firm UBS, which estimates a closure of 75,000 brick-and-mortar by 2026. 

According to another study by Forbes, nearly 20% of the US residents had opted for BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store) service. That number grew to 24% in 2021 and there is still time for the growth of that number in what is left of this year.

The impact of COVID-19 by numbers

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According to research by Forrester – global retail losses were a staggering $2.1 trillion at the end of 2020. The net result is that it will take four years to overtake pre-pandemic growth levels. And it’s not the e-commerce industry only bearing the brunt of this.

As per a finding by Latent View Analytics: 

  • 45% of consumers in the United States believed that the new shopping behaviors they adopted during Covid-19 have become “habits” that will continue after the pandemic.
  • BOPIS will be dominated by contactless curbside pickup for many retailers with ~19% of consumers preferring contactless pickup when frequenting a business and nearly 35% preferring contactless checkout in general.

Back home in India according to a CRISIL research of 145 B&M retailers, the organized retail sector could attain the pre-pandemic mark of Rs 5.7 lakh crore with a 23- 25% spurt next fiscal. The results will not be as per expectations in the next two years because the sector is about to log an estimated 19-22% income de-growth this fiscal.

Impact on Digital Commerce

  • Ecommerce has surpassed levels not expected until 2025 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, expected to bring in over $843 billion in sales this year.
  • M-commerce sales grew 31.5% in 2020 and are expected to surge another 28.8% this year. By 2022, mobile retail revenue will pass $432 billion, a 25.1% increase over 2021.

What Lies Ahead – Trends and Behavior In Retail  

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Social Distancing – Markers such as shown above have started becoming the new normal for in-store shopping. Customers will have to strictly follow the norms and practices so that they do not contract or spread the disease.

Speed and Product Placement in retail

The earlier rule of the thumb was that the more a prospective customer spends in the store, the more likely they will buy. But now that practice is not feasible anymore. Stores will have to facilitate the purchase and checkout in a seamless expedited manner without touching the products. Many Target stores have already segmented their stores where there is a section for quick grab-and-go items and the other side for browsable items and leisurely experience. 

Minimal Contact(retail)

Touch-free shopping will be the new normal. Technologies such as RFID and Bluetooth can provide content to a customer’s mobile phones without any direct contact. The integration of QR codes and barcodes will allow, allowing customers to complete transactions on their mobile devices and get the products shipped directly to their respective destinations. Retailers who can create such automated experiences lowering the risks for consumers and employees alike will surely enjoy a competitive advantage.

Stores Without Cash Registers –

The “Amazon Go” model was highly endorsed during the pandemic. Other retailers will follow or are following the suit. It is like another BOPIS model where you need to have an Amazon Account to get to the store and you do not have to interact with any cashiers or other staff. Both the consumers and the employees are safe.

Built-In Drive-throughs

The BOPIS model is encouraging retailers to adapt to deliver curbside pickup areas. The future drive-throughs will be better integrated into the actual physical stores with convenient procedures and technology. To deliver without the customers having to leave their mode of transportation.

Online Sales Assistants in retail

  With the digital onslaught and it being the “Necessary Evil”, Retailers will have to come up with solutions so as to give their customers a real-life personalized experience using the computers. With online sales assistants using the Live Chat feature, customer queries will be addressed or a chatbot can be programmed to ask questions that are generally asked by an in-store assistant. Then come up with algorithm-based purchase suggestions.

AR & VR –

Augmented and Virtual reality are already shaping up the purchase decisions in the automotive industry. Customers can have a virtual walkthrough of the actual showroom and their desired vehicle from the comfort of their homes. 

Leveraging Video

Doing product walkthroughs and demos remotely has helped furniture retailer Dufresne. 

Smaller Stores  –

With E-Commerce rising and growing large-format stores are not needed or are shutting down. Part of their facility can be used for warehousing purposes. 

Improvement in the HVAC systems

HVAC systems in closed environments can cause havoc. So it is imperative that the filtration systems are improved to filter all the toxic antigens.

Physical Barriers in retail –

Stores will have to be cautious and empathetic towards the situation involving interaction between the employees and the walk-in customers. Solutions such as plexiglass dividers between cashiers and customers, ensure the safety of the store staff and its customers. In the upcoming future, there will be more creative tactics to ensure safety at both ends. 

Cloud and Integrated E-Commerce in retail –

Cloud offers low infrastructure costs, ease of deployment, and Omnichannel experiences that can open profitable avenues for mid-tier retailers. They can deliver personalized experiences for their customers.

AI holds the key in retail

Emerging deep technologies such as AI, ML will play an important role in shaping up the future of retail. Virtual trial rooms, touchless in-store shopping, and personalized digital communication will be the new normal. Content-led commerce will be a new way for influencers and store associates. They will create content and use AR to deliver commerce and experience to the customers without any risk involved.

ERP, Enhanced RPA, and Analytics in retail

ERPs that are automation enables are true catalysts of digital transformation. These solutions will help the retailers in redefining the future of work. Also revamp functions such as Finance, Supply Chain, POS, and support services. Retailers need to invest in upskilling their teams with new skill sets and deploying bots. This will fuel the demand for decision-ready and real-time data. Clean, meaningful, and authentic data can help make well-informed decisions.
New Dawn of Partnership between retail technology solutions providers such as VendifyTM and vending machine retailers can enlighten the whole ecosystem with avenues for a seamless customer experience all across. Our solution can help you know your customer better, maturing your shared services model, and broadening your reach. To know more please reach out to us at

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