The pandemic is reshaping all facets of physical life.
As we space six feet apart in pretty much every physical setting – walking in the park, waiting for groceries, nimbly avoiding one another in big-box retail aisles – it’s safe to say that we’ll get used to social distancing as the norm for quite a while.
Against that backdrop, said Matt Redwood, global head of self-service solutions at Diebold Nixdorf, in a conversation with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, the stage is set for self-service retail to gain traction, and for retailers to evolve and embrace a “storevolution” that can cope with constant external change over the next decade.
Retailers, as Webster noted, have been adjusting to a digital environment – a sea change hastened by the coronavirus.
“Retail has been put under a huge amount of strain over the last couple of weeks,” said Redwood. For the time being, merchants across all verticals are focusing on keeping the lights on and making sure they can weather the new normal, which includes social distancing.
For those firms that have been able to stay open amid the pandemic, he said, “staff are extremely precious” and are essential to giving consumers the best possible on-site experience. They’ve been called upon not just to help consumers find the products they need on store shelves, but also to help manage the flow of customers into the aisles themselves, and even direct parking lot traffic, all with an eye on public health and safety.
But crises reshape businesses – and once things stabilize, firms will re-examine the ways they use their physical space.
In grappling with COVID-19, retailers have had to become flexible, said Redwood – and flexibility is one of the hallmarks of the self-service model.
“If you look at self-service,” he told Webster, “it's always been deployed in the past as a way of driving labor and cost savings within the stores."
Consumers have increasingly been encountering self-service offerings as they shop and transact across everyday life – where kiosks and vending machines are part of commuting to and from work, at airports and in drug stores.
Self-service, said Redwood, gives consumers more control over their shopping journey – and in these uncertain times, enables them to manage their own forms of social distancing.
To help promote the evolution toward retail on the other side of the pandemic, and to help develop optimal customer experiences, Redwood pointed to Diebold Nixdorf’s Storevolution™ advisory services, which use data to examine the technology (including self-service) used at each point along the customer journey. That journey spans advertising and promotions across mobile devices to in-store browsing to interaction at the point of sale (which may be the first, and only, person-to-person interaction with a staffer).
“Self-service covers every manner of devices that aren’t staff-controlled," said Redwood – and the journey begins before the consumer actually gets to the store. Navigating change, and optimizing the physical store setting, can happen as retailers develop an operating framework that rests on “pillars” such as high connectivity and a “store-as-a-service” mindset.
The ideal customer journey is frictionless and efficient, Redwood noted. To promote such ease, he said that UX interfaces must be intuitive, and should involve a minimal number of click-throughs and buttons to navigate as consumers search for, locate and ultimately buy the items they desire.
As Redwood told Webster, self-service is changing the way retailers use technologies and “operationalize” their own physical footprint – which, for the time being, could be a challenge due to the pandemic.
“If you think about an inner-city convenience store, there is not a huge amount of space,” he noted as an example. Typically, that retailer will look to have as many checkout locations in place as possible to meet peak demand.
But in the age of the coronavirus, in an effort to promote social distancing, some stores are deploying Perspex screens to help fight COVID-19. There has also been an examination of using technologies that are the hallmarks of healthcare, such as UV lights that can clean self-checkout units before each use.
“Ultimately,” Redwood said, “self-service will give the retailer the most flexibility, which is crucial in these times.”