The earliest versions of humankind naturally wouldn’t recognize modern humans – not their diets, homes, or possessions. They certainly wouldn’t be able to relate to current-day gathering behaviors considering there were no shopping carts or clicks in prehistoric times.

But what’s even more interesting is that a B.C. (Before Covid) human might not recognize the modern retail experience either. The pandemic accelerated an evolution already underway in retail – digital is transforming how and where consumers shop, what they buy, and their expectations for support and experience.

There are many retail business models, each with unique needs. But they all have one thing in common: to satisfy customers and grow profit margins; all must keep pace with the rate of digital transformation.

Evolving consumer behavior and a new hybrid workforce present retailers with new challenges. What are the leading communications technology trends on the retail horizon? Here’s what’s in store (pun intended):

  • Supply chain resiliency
  • Recycling returns
  • Employee experience
  • Mobile-enabled workforce
  • Omnichannel
  • Faster, frictionless transactions

1. Supply Chain Resiliency

Supply chain resiliency will continue to challenge retailers for the next several years. It’s not just bottlenecks and a shortage of materials crimping the chain. Consumer shopping behaviors make it more difficult for retailers to stock the right quantities of the correct goods.

That’s creating headaches for retail executives, 80 percent of whom believe consumers will prioritize stock availability over retailer loyalty in the upcoming year. At the same time, retailers need to avoid overstocking, which has forced retailers like Target to slash prices to move surplus inventory.

Ongoing communication can help retailers and their supply chain partners minimize disruptions and keep stores and warehouses stocked with just enough of the right items. Cloud communications and collaboration tools like web chat and video conferencing keep retailers connected and on the same page with vendors worldwide. Combining data from the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation make it possible to keep real-time tabs on inventory levels so you can keep the correct number of items on the shelves.

2. Recycling Returns 

“Reduce, reuse, and recycle” isn’t just about bottles and cans anymore. In the circular economy, returns are given a second life. This is a particularly compelling concept for retail for several reasons. In 2021, retail returns jumped to an average of 16.6 percent compared to 10.6 percent a year prior. And certain goods tend to have higher return rates:

  • Auto parts: 19.4%
  • Apparel: 12.2%
  • Home improvement: 11.5%
  • Housewares: 11.5% 

As a result, many retailers are putting conservation programs in place to put returns on shelves or sell them at a discount. For instance, IKEA just launched a second-hand store for gently used IKEA furniture.

A smooth return process is key to the success of such initiatives. Contact centers can be optimized to make it easier for consumers to reach retailers and work out the details of returns, from shipping the product back to refunds.

For instance, retailers can automate the process using self-service and chatbots but also make it simple to switch to an agent if the transaction is more complicated. Retailers who make it easy for consumers to return items and know they’ll be resold or repurposed are more likely to increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

3. Employee Experience

Amid the “Great Resignation” and labor shortage, retailers find it challenging to hire and retain staff in both stores and call centers, where turnover has traditionally been high.

Although retailers have increased pay and offered better benefits, they still have another tool in their arsenal: employee experience. More than eight in 10 retailers say they plan to invest most heavily in employee recruitment and retention, Deloitte found in a recent survey. By investing in communications and collaboration tools that empower employees and support flexibility – including where and when employees work – retailers can elevate the employee experience.

The more satisfying experiences you can create, the better. Did you know only two in 10 employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work? With workforce optimization suites like Mitel’s, agents can get feedback in real-time to improve customer interactions immediately. The result is higher satisfaction for both employees and customers.

4. Mobile-enabled Workforce

Like other industries, retailers are also adopting hybrid and remote workforce models. For instance, many contact center agents now work from home offices. Employees are often on the move, even in brick-and-mortar retail stores and warehouses.

As the workforce becomes more mobile, retailers can leverage communications and contact center technology, AI, and machine learning to deliver a stellar customer experience. In the hybrid workplace, humans and AI assistants work together. Machine learning is used to analyze customer behavior and determine patterns. Employees can use these insights to design hyper-personalized experiences that keep customers fully engaged.

5. Omnichannel

From the start of COVID in March 2020 through March 2022, e-commerce sales increased 33 percent, according to McKinsey research. Consumers have adapted to shopping online, and the trend seems poised to continue. However, they’re now also ready to shop in-store. McKinsey also found that in-store spending increased 8 percent year-over-year in March 2022, up from 5 percent in early 2021.

By seamlessly blending the digital and real-world experiences throughout the buying journey, retailers can reach shoppers where they are – and deliver goods however they want – at home, curbside, or in-store.

Easy access to customer information means retail staff in stores can order an item for a customer and have it shipped to their home without any fuss. In the contact center, agents can manage interactions across all channels – voice, email, SMS, web chat, social media, a website – via a single interface and deliver a consistent experience every time.

6. Faster, Frictionless Transactions

Blending the digital and real worlds has raised the bar for accessibility and ease of use. It should come as no surprise that after two years of online shopping, almost 40 percent of internet users worldwide now report a preference for chatbots over virtual agents. Their usage is also predicted to grow alongside the rising demand for service during what have traditionally been non-business hours. After all, chatbots don’t care if it’s 2 am.

Chatbots play an essential role in creating faster, frictionless transactions. AI-powered chatbots can answer basic questions, then hand off customers to agents or in-store staff to finalize purchases.

It All Adds Up to a Stellar Experience 

The times they are a-changin’. Retailers must deliver an exceptional experience to customers and employees to stay ahead of the competition and thrive amidst modern-day challenges. The proper communications and collaboration technology makes it easy to keep your workers and customers engaged, happy, and informed. Mitel has the technology necessary for retailers to make this happen.

Modern times call for modern tech. Grow and evolve with Mitel.


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