With many consumers more attuned to online shopping, the emergence of a hybrid approach is playing a role in shopping habits, forcing retailers to deliver an elevated omnichannel experience to remain competitive.

However, these shifts in consumer sentiments come with a backdrop of great turbulence for businesses, according to Zebra Technologies sales engineering manager for Australia and New Zealand, Daniel Park.  

“Supply chain disruptions have been persistent throughout the year and will most likely continue,” he said.

“The labour shortage has also been a significant barrier to smooth operations, as retailers across Australia find it difficult to attract and retain individuals. So, as retailers are being held to a higher standard than before, it is also more challenging to operate business as usual. As a result, retailers are forced to re-strategise and reinvent themselves.”

Findings from Zebra’s 15th Global Shopper Study suggest that shoppers are demanding an omnichannel experience, with seven in ten customers surveyed preferring both in-store and online shopping.

“To support operations, many retailers are converting their brick-and-mortar stores so that they can serve the dual roles of a fulfilment centre for online shoppers and a physical shopfront for in-store shoppers,” Park told Retailbiz.

“This enables click-and-collect services and quicker delivery for customers who choose to shop online. While this transformation is a sector-wide trend, a fast and connected customer journey across channels will provide competitive differentiation for retailers.

“Labour shortages have also been a key challenge with turnover a sector-wide problem. What the past two years have highlighted is that while retailers have zeroed in on customer experience, the employee experience is just as important and will in fact, be a significant determinant of a good customer experience.”

The pressures faced by retailers offers them an opportunity to explore innovative solutions as means to gain a competitive advantage in a market awash with challenges, according to Park.

“As stores are converted into fulfilment centres, we have witnessed an unusual growth in handheld and wearable technologies, like the Zebra WS50 Android wearable computer, which enables easy hands-free workflows for online order picking,” he said.

“There has also been a considerable rise in the demand for Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) solutions. RFID technology enables enhanced visibility into inventory availability in a more efficient manner. This empowers retail teams to effectively help their customers with product availability queries and helps replenishment teams to place orders that align to demand.”

Technology is just one part of the puzzle for retailers as they navigate the coming months and years, post-COVID, but it’s an important part.

“Retailers that have been entrenched in conventional wisdom need to come at the challenges with an open mind and a readiness to adopt new practices, processes and, yes, technology to market and sell their goods in a dramatically changed trading environment.”