As COVID restrictions continue to lift across the country, many shoppers are understandably anxious about the prospect of Christmas shopping alongside crowds of strangers. Yet the country is faced with mounting shipping delays that may force many customers to look at alternatives to online shopping.

The good news is, the technology that many retailers deployed to help them survive the lockdowns are providing alternative shopping methods to help meet the convenience and peace of mind customers are demanding, whilst supporting retailer growth. 

One particular trend we saw take off during lockdown was the concept of ‘dark stores’. The idea behind a dark store is that it’s closed to the public but connects the physical and digital experiences. It gave brands the ability to ship directly from stores, facilitate Click and Collect and also run virtual bookings with staff members in-store.

This meant retailers could keep staff employed and dramatically reduce disruptions to sales caused by lockdowns. The same technology is now helping manage crowd numbers and provide convenience to shoppers as we open back up. 

Virtual appointments 

A number of major Australian retailers are now using virtual appointments to connect customers to store staff via Zoom for a personalised shopping experience. Customers can book a virtual appointment directly through the company’s website, making an appointment with a consultant or in real-time while reviewing a product or service online.

Shoppers will receive an email and text with their link to connect via Zoom once the consultant accepts their appointment. During their engaging video appointment, consultants take customers through products or services of interest. The likes of MJ Bale, CUE and Nike even have an integrated live shopping cart within the Zoom call for seamless shopping, and options for home delivery or in-store pick-up. 

Whilst virtual shopping was building momentum before the pandemic, restrictions on movement saw adoption surge and some wondered whether the technology would continue to see growth once stores reopened. We can find our answer by looking at the Chinese market as it continues to lead in terms of market recovery.

In China, 14% of all e-commerce sales are now attributed to video and live commerce. And this is already tracking close to 5% in the US. The trend in China is validation that this growth will continue as consumers continue to look for ways to avoid shopping crowds and prioritise convenience in a post-lockdown world. 

Reserve-in-store technology 

Whether it’s a last-minute gift or a pair of jeans that need to be tried on, sometimes shopping online for home delivery isn’t an option. Yet customers are increasingly after convenience and with that comes the certainty that they can walk into a store and easily purchase what they’re looking for. 

Reserve-in-store technology lets customers schedule a time slot to come to the store and view or try on an item they wish to purchase. Rather than ‘find in store’ buttons, which are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to tracking stock and collect zero customer information, we’ve found offering customers the ability to reserve an item online and pay in-store increases conversion rates by up to 25%. Not only does it increase sales, but it is also helping to manage the flow of customers in-store by limiting the time people spend browsing. 

Click and Collect 

Click and Collect became a lifeline for many retailers during lockdowns to limit (or completely restrict) browsing time whilst maintaining online sales. Now it can continue to connect the digital and physical shopping experiences offered by retailers as well as limit in-store interactions as we open up. 

As an example, for Retail Prodigy Group, Click and Collect is making up, on average, approximately 20% of its e-commerce sales and its Click and Collect ATV (average transaction value) is approximately 50% higher than its normal ATV in stores. A lot of the reason behind this growth is likely due to customer frustrations over Australia Post delays during lockdowns, an issue retailers operating dark stores were able to somewhat circumvent and something all retailers continue to grapple with. 

As we enter the busiest shopping period of the year, many Australians will remain apprehensive about battling it out with the crowds. Others have simply grown accustomed to online shopping and the convenience it provides. Whatever the reason, the gap between physical and digital is now obsolete for customers. Customers expect to have seamless transitions between all touchpoints to cater to how and when they want to shop without compromising on the experience. Simple technology solutions are letting retailers do just that, and those on the front foot are reaping the rewards. 

Lee Hardham is CEO and founder at Brauz.