Three ways technology will save retail in 2021

By Michael van den Berg

Whilst we navigate a third UK lockdown due to the pandemic, businesses of all sizes in a variety of industries have had to review and rethink their strategies to adjust to changing health and safety compliance. In particular, the retail sector has been heavily impacted by the current restrictions. According to Retail Research, more than 4,000 stores have closed in the second half of 2020 and the list is predicted to grow.

Familiar territory

For some brands, the lessons learnt from the first lockdown in March 2020, has enabled them to rethink how they interact with customers and find creative ways to keep the lights on – from moving to an online offering or delivery service to in-store, tap-as-you-go shopping: all of which have been supported through the use of smart apps and mobile devices.

With mobile technology being at the forefront of reinventing the shopping experience in 2021, high street and online retailers can look to use consumer-friendly devices from brands such as Apple, which is already a firm favourite for creativity, compatibility and collaboration, to future-proof their businesses.

For long term success, mobile technology investments can be supported by a management platform that can enrol, deploy and manage devices and apps in one holistic view so that retailers can reduce IT burdens and provide a safe and seamless shopping experience for all.  

1. Change the face of customer service

According to a Vanson Bourne study, Mobile Retail Trends 2019, 99% of retailers already use at least one mobile technology such as shared mobile devices, devices to link the brick-and-mortar stores with the online store, for Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems or customer use. Mobile technology has long supported employees and customers in checking the availability of stock, making payment transactions and even removing the need for a cash register. So what’s different now?

While digital transformations may be changing retail, consumers still want some form of human interaction and unfortunately, the new landscape and health & safety compliance is making that challenging. Retailers who hadn’t adopted a technology strategy as yet now struggle to find a way to appease customer safety concerns and stay open.

The important thing to remember is that we do not necessarily need to remove all sales representatives within the store but instead find ways in which to humanise technology and find a new purpose for existing staff. For example, cash desks can be removed to avoid people queuing close to one another and payments can be taken by an easy-to-use iPad anywhere within the store.

Luxury cosmetic brand, Rituals, adopted a digital approach using Apple devices to elevate the retail experience by providing customers with a mobile PoS to be able to purchase products everywhere in the store. Customers could search and pay for an item – reducing the need to queue and creating a better flow of customers throughout the store. 

The retailer enlisted Apple enterprise management experts, Jamf, to help set up and deploy each Apple device from MacBooks and iPads to iPhones a well as provide zero-day support for new Apple releases.

Amazon has taken this concept further by using deep-learning algorithms, mobile devices and geo-fencing technology to remove the need to scan any items or pay at a cash register altogether.

While such investments are not made overnight, retailers can also look at ways in which to support the in-store experience by recommending additional products through geo-location tagging or using QR codes to gain additional information on products so that sales representatives can focus on keeping customers safe.

Keeping it real-time

2. Automate stock management

With fewer sales representatives in store, retailers can look to automate their warehouses to support any staff so that they can focus on creating an enjoyable customer experience.  Automated warehouses are expected to keep reliable stock data in real-time so that staff can have an accurate picture of stock-flow at any point, to make better-informed decisions.

With the use of iPads, staff can log-in and check orders for customers, reduce waste by making more accurate forecasts on products, as well as determine what products are favourable to increase sales. According to LogisticsIQ, retailers such as Walmart, Woolworth, Amazon and Ocado, have already begun to adopt and implement new automated warehouse technologies during the pandemic and we can expect to see more follow suit.

3. Deliver augmented reality experiences

We’ve already seen some brands make use of tools, including software that analyses your skin colour and face shape to recommend the right beauty products. In 2021, its likely more retailers will use augmented reality to help customers paint a picture of how they will look in certain clothes or how their home could be designed or decorated – without the need for customers to touch the products in advance. Apple has introduced the ARKit platform to develop augmented reality for iOS devices, and new products are already being released.

Leveraging apps that both sales representatives and customers can use on their own devices will require the retailers to ensure their app is compatible with popular devices such as Apple and can be deployed easily and efficiently.

Know your customer

Managing the Apple platform

Unfortunately, the pandemic has added complexity to how stores can operate but retailers can leverage mobile technology to avoid further delaying sales opportunities in 2021. Mobile technology offers retailers the chance to transform their businesses – unifying online and offline sales channels with mobile logistics and omni-channel sales tools, effectively on-boarding and retaining staff, and bringing insight to each customer interaction.

However, staff need to be able to manage the apps and devices being deployed in a quick, safe and secure way or retailers could risk losing their investments to the back of the stock room.

Through the use of Jamf, the leader in Apple enterprise management, retailers can remotely enrol, deploy and manage Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV devices – configuring each device to receive visibility into what apps are being used, who is accessing data and to deploy smart solutions that can check stock inventory, or even create unique experiences for the consumer in a click of a button.

New opportunities are arising from the current lockdown and retailers can adopt mobile technology solutions to accelerate their innovations and capabilities in the year ahead – all while staying compliant.  

Michael van den Berg, vice president & general manager EMEIA, Jamf