Retailers are heading into 2022 in the face of serious challenges, including inflation and labor shortages, but many executives are confident that the industry will prevail. In fact, 32% believe that retail as a whole will experience 5% growth or more this year, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Retail Industry Outlook.
“Retailers are still pretty optimistic in terms of the power of the consumer in spite of the inflationary headwinds,” said Rod Sides, Vice Chair and U.S. Leader of Retail and Distribution at Deloitte in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It’s an interesting insight into the psyche of retail executives and where their heads are right now.”
There are still a number of investments to be made and challenges to overcome if retailers want to reach their full potential. Some of the key strategies retailers should have top of mind as they enter the coming year include:
- Invest in predictability for your workforce: Associates’ jobs have grown more complicated over the past two years as store-based fulfillment gained importance, contributing to the workforce crunch — but improving schedule stability can help retain talent;
- Build better visibility into your operations: A better understanding of both your supply chain and your customers’ shopping habits can simultaneously ease inventory challenges and improve the customer experience;
- Continue “busting” friction in ecommerce: Shoppers are changing the way they browse, with omnichannel more important than ever, and now retailers need to update their friction-reducing efforts to make transactions easy across all channels; and
- Understand the intersection of physical and digital: Developments in NFTs and the metaverse are still in their early stages, but no matter how these opportunities play out, retailers will definitely benefit from having a better understanding of how shoppers’ digital interactions are impacting their physical demands.
Retailers Must Help Associates Have a Better, More Balanced Experience
For in-store associates in particular, the hiring challenges of 2021 are going to remain potent in 2022: 74% of retail executives expect talent shortages for customer-facing positions to continue this year. Competitive wages and an inclusive corporate culture will continue being key elements in managing the workforce, but store associates also are looking for retailers who can add stability to their schedules.
“One of the biggest complaints from associates is that the average retail schedule really only goes out a week, two weeks tops,” said Sides. “What we know in the current labor market is folks are looking for predictability. They’re reprioritizing what’s important to them. So while they certainly are looking for employment, they want to have some semblance of balance with their personal life — kids or family or whatever they find really important. The number one thing I think we can do is provide a lot better clarity and predictability around the schedule.”
The best retailers already understand the need for stability — 91% of retail leaders, defined as the companies with the highest growth and confidence in their operations, say that improving the overall workforce experience will be a high priority in 2022. This can include helpful automation and personal tools in addition to improved scheduling.
This demand for a better experience ties into how retail has changed over the past two decades — and the past two years in particular. The roles and responsibilities of associates have grown with the rise of BOPIS and curbside, adding even more duties to busy workers’ plates and potentially making their schedules even more erratic as variables like popular delivery windows were added to existing metrics like peak traffic times. This is where better visibility can come into play for workers: the better a retailer understands the patterns of customer behavior and incoming deliveries, the easier it becomes to offer stable schedules.
Visibility is Paramount, From the Supply Chain to Shopper Habits
Insights into data have become more readily available with the advancement of technology. They are particularly important along the supply chain, where 73% of retailers either plan to invest in real-time traceability in 2022, or rest confident that their operations are fully up-to-date. This can assist associates in particular, by helping them prepare for incoming deliveries and adding further reliability to their weekly schedules.
“One of the big challenges at work is that a lot of the unpredictability is based on not knowing,” said Sides. “When am I going to get delivery? What am I going to get into delivery? How accurate is that? For years we’ve worked for retailers to make sure that we’ve got stability down. Say I’ve got X number of inbound carts coming into my distribution facility and I know that it takes me two days to process them through. I have the ability to understand, based on the way those carts are labeled, the destination. Then I can understand some windows of what my labor needs to be for the store replenishment cycle.”
Retailers shouldn’t limit their data visibility efforts to the supply chain, even though it will remain an important area of investment in the coming year. Better data insights, which are available from anonymized sources such as credit cards and cell phone geolocation, also can be key to delivering the best possible customer experience.
“We’re not looking to surveil anybody,” said Sides. “What we’re trying to do is really understand the patterns from when someone leaves their home. What’s the route they use to get here? How many stops do they make? Where that gets interesting is when, if you know that your shopper on average makes three stops on their trip, and you know that on average they’re getting a cup of coffee on the way. The question becomes ‘What can I do to meet more of their needs?’”
Friction-Busting Continues to be a Key Area of Investment
Omnichannel will continue being a top priority for both retailers and shoppers in 2022, which is going to lead to heavy investment on the digital side. In fact, 67% of respondents to Deloitte’s survey cited ecommerce and online shopping platforms as top investment areas for the coming year. While there are any number of approaches retailers can take to improve the digital shopping experience, busting friction will remain one of the key strategies: 96% of retail executives believe shoppers will expect a seamless experience across channels.
When it comes to managing the experience online, retailers need to first make sure they are keeping up with existing best practices. Shoppers generally start ecommerce and omnichannel transactions with their final purchase in mind, so the key is to keep the funnel as short and engaging as possible, minimizing the amount of work between the customer and checkout.
“How can I make sure that in my search criteria, number one, I’m able to offer the best alternatives?,” said Sides. “Number two, how do I make it easy when they’re ready to buy? Do they have an account already? Is their credit card information stored? It has to be very easy to get through the checkout process. As you go through the sales funnel, people drop off all the way through, and conversion at the end might be 2% to 4%.”
Understand the Connect Between Digital and Physical Interests
Concepts like the metaverse are still too new for retailers to determine exactly how they will be monetized, but 64% of leaders expect retailers to engage with customers around digital goods in some form over the next five years. While it may be too early for most retailers to start speculating on virtual real estate, now is the time for them to deepen their understanding of how shoppers’ digital and physical demands are intertwining.
Sides noted that his oldest son has become a gun buff, not by building out a real-life gun collection but by learning about the weapons he uses in WW2 video games. The lesson here: shoppers who aren’t interested in the physical version of some items can still be interested in these goods in the abstract, perhaps for their digital avatars. Additionally, these customers can be well-versed on the qualities the online versions should have.
In other cases, of course, shoppers may actually be interested in the real-world version of their digital items. Retailers trying to wrap their heads around just how the metaverse can benefit their operations can take advantage of this learning opportunity by utilizing a familiar sales driver: product placement.
“You can put branded product in different places,” said Sides. “Folks really notice brands in movies and TV shows, and I think we’re going to find the same thing in the metaverse.”