Shopper buying expectations are higher than ever before with convenience, efficiency and safety at the forefront, according to Zebra Technologies.

“Consumers want to enjoy the convenience of integrated digital ecommerce, while still experiencing the physical touch points from bricks and mortar, all leading to seamless and instant gratification that comes with shopping,” sales vice president for Australia and New Zealand, Tom Christodoulou told Retailbiz.

The Zebra 2021 Shopper Study found that more than three-quarters (76%) of shoppers want to get in and out of physical stores quickly and this has placed even more pressure on retailers to adapt to satisfy customer demand.

“For example, omnichannel operation is now an essential part of the grocery store strategy due to the competitive environment of the market. Other shifts include demand for faster and contactless checkout experiences with greater expectations around transparency and communication. Customers want to know what’s available, where it’s available and how much it’ll cost end to end before making a purchase.”

Christodoulou expects some retailers to struggle to keep up when consumers start shopping for Christmas this year, given the reduced number of flights entering the country, coupled with factory and warehouse closures, industrial action and shipping container shortages, all leading to major delays and price increases for imported goods.

“This is especially the case for those who have been falling behind with challenges around existing supply chain operations, in-store operations and order fulfilment, resulting from a lack of proper return management strategy or digitisation efforts in the business,” he said.

The most important challenge that retailers face is the maintenance of inventory accuracy, as they strive to avoid out of stock situations due to the rapid growth of ecommerce.

“With more customers preferring click & collect and contactless deliveries, the rise of ‘buy online, pick up in store’ (BOPIS), ‘buy online, return in store’ (BORIS), ship to store, ship from store, direct home shipping from warehouses and even drop shipping from manufacturers has forced both bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce retailers to assess inventory availability, fulfilment trends and consumption patterns in an entirely new way,” Christodoulou said.

“However, the wide variety of systems that retailers use can lead to a fragmented view of the different parts of their supply chain. It is therefore crucial to consolidate these pieces to ensure consistency in the overall customer experience. Only then, will they be able to optimise inventory, improve consumer conversions, and ultimately improve sales.

“Retailers need to deploy the right technologies that can help streamline their supply chain and optimise their inventory. For example, radio-frequency identification (RFID), scanners, mobile computers, and even prescriptive analytics.

“Store associates must also be equipped with the right technologies that can enable them with inventory visibility and insightful analytics to deliver better shopping experiences. The future of retail belongs to the digital natives who expect technology-enabled experiences. Therefore, customer expectations of how technology is woven into their shopping experience are set to become a key focus and point of differentiation.”