Dealing with disruption is nothing new in business, but it certainly has been relentless lately. By some estimates, the retail industry has undergone more transformation in the last three years than in the previous 50 years combined. And there is no end in sight, with social and macroeconomic trends such as inflation, labour shortages, digital competition, supply chain issues, and economic downturn poised to reshape business again.

In face of so many challenges, enterprises are now accelerating plans to navigate through the disruption. According to Zebra’s Warehousing Vision Study, over one in three organisations identify labour shortages as a very significant issue for their business, and four in five report difficulty in filling roles (a significant increase from late 2021).

The Zebra Shopper Vision Study shared that the omnichannel shopping surge post the pandemic has amplified shopper expectations. Naturally, if businesses are experiencing softer spending due to high inflation while addressing higher shopper expectations, new ways to work with technology to improve customer engagement and stock availability will boost both sales and customer satisfaction. Specifically, companies that leverage technology around three business fundamentals—their people, their operations, and their customers – will be better positioned to build more resilience today and thrive tomorrow.

Power your people

Finding, training, and retaining talent is challenging. There are more jobs than job applicants which translates into a skills shortage for employers. In fact, in Zebra’s Shopper Study 80% of APAC retailers agreed that upskilling current store staff is a significant challenge. Winning in today’s environment means not only attracting employees, but keeping them happy, productive, and enabled to make more impactful contributions.

Focusing on optimising workforce management, streamlining task management and giving all workers the communication tools and systems they need to do their jobs easily can provide the biggest paybacks. Leading businesses are investing in innovations such as mobility and task management software solutions that ensure employees can work more efficiently and focus on higher value tasks. In turn, they are more productive, more engaged with customers, and more likely to contribute in more meaningful ways.

Modernise operations

“No one should be using paper anymore.” That was the sentiment shared by Jimmy Huff, IoT, T-Mobile for Small Business at National Small Business Week in the US—and it rings true here in Australia too. While large companies adopt tech, many small and medium businesses still believe that digitisation and sophisticated tech, such as AI, is financially out of reach.

But in reality, SMEs that embrace digital technology are three times more likely to see improvements in profitability. Tech solutions such as RFID provide real-time visibility from inventory counts to tracking an initial customer order through shipping and delivery. Small and medium businesses know the cost of sitting still is high, as a lack of visibility over operations could cost them supply chain efficiencies and, consequently, profit margins.

Cultivate customers

Consumers have grown accustomed to several key innovations over the last several years and want to continue to experience them seamlessly at scale. As connectivity between people, data and devices grow, so do consumers’ on-demand expectations. That creates a need for businesses to provide more tailored experiences. Technology, digitisation, and automation can enable small and medium organisations to transform processes, efficiency, and productivity and, in turn, deliver better experiences to customers.

In retail, most consumers (76%) expect to minimise time spent in stores, getting in and out as quickly as possible. Their preference for a seamless integration between online and in-store shopping is clear, with seven in 10 saying they prefer shopping this way.

So, retailers who wish to thrive in the future are investing in technologies that provide faster, more personalised options, and improving service with connected, skilled workers and in-store technologies that enhance customer service. For example, workers equipped with communication and collaboration solutions can instantly answer customer questions, or a small business can easily manage their printing activities by creating labels for customer orders and tagging merchandise.

Trending to tech transformation

While business is always changing, it is now at an inflection point. Technology is the bridge that can bring it to its new modern age. In fact, according to McKinsey, technology is at the core of transformation. It must be–the pace and agility needed to keep up with newly formed customer expectations grew exponentially during the pandemic and requires businesses—of all sizes– to adapt their tech footprint to deliver the outcomes needed – empowered people, modern operations, and happy customers.

Brett Newstead is director of sales for ANZ at Zebra Technologies.