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The 2020 holiday shopping season was unlike anything ever seen in retail. Online sales, steadily increasing for several years, saw a 6.5% increase between 2019 and 2020 due to shifting pandemic shopping habits. To put this in perspective, prior to 2019, 6.5% was the percentage increase in holiday shopping over the prior four years combined. With so much uncertainty about the new variants, combined with consumers wanting to get back to normal, what is the path forward?

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The "pandemic-pivot" is just table stakes

According to a recent survey by Google and BCG, 70 percent of shoppers will leverage digital channels for holiday shopping in 2021, and 50 percent of shoppers are likely to utilize online channels for some or all their gift-giving. Prior to the pandemic, the lines between shopping channels were clear, with a few exceptions. While e-commerce was slowly taking market share, the in-store experience remained king. E-commerce shoppers still couldn't see, touch or smell products; instead, they received items and gifts through the mail and, when required, worked with customer service agents when returns or exchanges were needed.

Retailers were just scratching the surface of the omnichannel experience, beginning in the following areas:

  • Buy-Online, Pickup-in-Store (BOPIS) and scheduled store delivery options to eliminate shipping cost, or backroom pickers to fulfill in-stock items. However, the consumer experience was often disjointed and clunky as the e-commerce platform was seldom integrated to the point-of-sale (POS) system. This resulted in fulfillment delays and lost orders amid increasing consumer expectations.
  • In-store returns took advantage of point-of-presence and existing reverse logistics routing to eliminate shipping costs. Challenges again included disjointed frontend platforms. While records existed in the Enterprise Resource Platform (ERP), the POS often had no way to recall those order invoices.

The pandemic brought an about-face to the entire industry, as rules and regulations evolved amid rapidly changing scientific discovery. Supply chains were crippled. Employees were in short supply. Consumers began looking for and expecting more fulfillment options. Touchless and distance-based methods became a necessity. This was omnichannel's moment.

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How to up the ante

The retail industry has never looked back. By general rule, once an option is made available to consumers, that option must always be available. Fulfillment options are starting to become table stakes -- fueled by the pandemic, but carried forward by consumer expectations in:

  • BOPIS
  • In-store returns
  • Curbside pickup

As we emerge from COVID-19, consumer trends will continue to evolve and retailers must continue to adapt. The same retailers trailblazing BOPIS and curbside prior to 2019 are now experimenting with:

Omnichannel will continue to evolve, and we're really just beginning to learn exactly what "omnichannel" means. We see the following investments as critical to sustaining the omnichannel momentum presented by the pandemic and this revolutionary shift in consumer expectations:

  1. An integrated platform capable of handling associate-facing POS.
  2. E-commerce in its many facets (e.g., web, kiosk, phone and wearables).
  3. Robust fulfillment options (e.g., BOPIS, curbside, 3PL, last-mile), and
  4. Data analytics and machine-learning collaboration.

WWT has worked closely with grocery, restaurant and retail clients to build and execute technology roadmaps to future-proof your business while meeting and exceeding consumer expectations.

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