Will accelerated technology investments be enough to meet the Ramadan shopping surge?

RetailME Bureau

Words by Hozefa Saylawala – Middle East Sales Director, Zebra Technologies

By the time the Holy Month approached in 2020, much of life and work was already moving online due to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This included shopping, which actually experienced a surge in online activity during Ramadan. Since then, retailers have accelerated their technology investments to meet the increasing expectations of connected customers, mitigate further supply chain disruptions, achieve greater warehousing efficiencies, and improve inventory management. They have also introduced new track and trace capabilities for deliveries.

For Middle East retailers, in particular, Ramadan brings opportunities and challenges. With such intense trading in a very short period – driven further by discounts and promotions – there is very little room for error. So, the question becomes: have retailers invested in technology wisely enough to manage the Ramadan surge in 2021?

Technology can help

According to Zebra’s 13th annual Global Shopper Study, more than 83% of EMEA retail decision-makers say the pandemic accelerated their implementation plans for mobile devices and solutions. This is the highest score of any region. Given that approximately 76% of shoppers prefer to shop at online retailers that also have brick-and-mortar locations, retailers can now leverage an omnichannel approach to optimize sales – assuming they have the right technology in place to improve the customer experience both in store and online.

For example, those who offer multiple payment options, including the ubiquitous smartphone alongside in-store self-scanning solutions, can make it easier for customers to shop on their terms.

And giving supply chain staff and front-line store associates mobile technology devices will help them better manage an increase in footfall traffic and online orders expected at this time of year. The ‘always connected’ consumer has higher expectations than ever. They want modern online and mobile shopping options, fast, flexible delivery, and a frictionless experience, regardless of where and what they ultimately buy.

Unsurprisingly, Zebra’s study found that shoppers’ in-store and online satisfaction significantly declined in 2020 due to out-of-stocks, product variety, online delivery costs, timing and returns.

In other words, retailers’ success hinges on elevating the shopper experience through technology investment in prescriptive analytics solutions, mobile devices and contactless checkouts. Here are a few ways to help provide a more frictionless and satisfying omnichannel experience:

  • Real-time inventory visibility: Many shoppers say out-of-stocks are the top reason they leave stores without purchasing anything. Zebra’s study found shoppers expect a seamless experience between stores and online, placing more online orders due to desired product availability. Whether in store or in the warehouse, prescriptive analytics and intelligent automation solutions can help achieve real-time inventory visibility. Prescriptive analytics uses machine learning to confirm current on-shelf inventory, optimizing operational outcomes. Intelligent automation pairs a “person with machine” such as a robot or co-bot (collaborative robot) that roams store aisles or a warehouse. This can help increase cart sizes and retain customer loyalty.
  • Mobile ordering: Mobile ordering from smartphones and tablets has grown tremendously and proved instrumental in maintaining social distancing and adherence to local guidelines. But significant numbers of shoppers believe more retailers need to offer this option, and most decision-makers and store associates agree that mobile ordering would help meet customer expectations.
  • Smart checkout: When more shoppers use self-checkouts, store associates are freed up to assist customers with inventory and pricing questions and manage higher priority tasks, such as shelf replenishment. Self-checkout – using either via kiosks, smartphones or bioptic scanners –also helps retailers facilitate social distancing and meet health and safety mandates and protocols, improving the overall customer experience.
  • Safer in-store experiences: Retailers may think shoppers and staff trust them to make health and safety a priority, but not all agree. Shoppers who are concerned about surface sanitation or social exposure in stores may prefer contactless payment options. For associates, social distancing and/or contact tracing apps can help make them feel more at ease in their retail working environments.