The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have sped up the digital transformation for both businesses and consumers, at the same time setting off profound changes in digital retail, some of which are set to be long-lasting.

These recent trends and the tools to best respond to this rapidly changing environment were discussed during the first part of Expo Riva Schuh’s online event on Digital Transformation.

Over the past year, the pandemic has led to a shift in digital priorities for the vast majority of businesses, said Joanna Lowry, senior strategic consultant at WGSN. A recent report from AppDynamics showed that technology priorities have changed within 95 percent of organizations, while 88 percent reported that digital customer experience is now the top priority, and the main way to engage consumers is now through digital channels.

As a result of the pandemic, more businesses are investing in robotics and automation (e.g. drones to deliver groceries, robotic sanitizer dispensers). Global spending in this area is expected to reach $241 billion by 2023, according to International Data Corporation. The global adoption rate of robotics and automation in digital supply chains is also set to surge from 39 percent in 2020 to 73 percent in 2025.

The spending in augmented reality and virtual reality is also set to greatly increase in the next few years. These technologies have “the potential to transform the online shopping experience and make it immersive and almost on par with shopping in real life,” which “poses a huge challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers, and an opportunity,” Lowry said. 

In terms of strategies, some trends stand out on how companies can implement digital transformation. The B2B innovations highlighted by WGSN are: 

-Smart supply chains: emerging smart and cloud-based manufacturing systems that leverage key consumer data to help businesses produce to sell, rather than to stock. Ways to digitize the supply chain include robots and AI, autonomous vehicles and delivery drones.

-Predictive demand: AI can also be used to predict consumer needs and behavior. Tools include digital avatars that create livestreams, and AI-powered intelligence to engage consumers.

-3D design: an innovation that is being adopted by the fashion industry to increase production speed and avoid overproduction.

-Virtual collaborations: which allow to collaborate with colleagues in a digital world, for instance using AI.

-Hyper-real showrooms: with fashion weeks canceled, companies had to come up with creative solutions in the way they showcase their collections, with digital presentations replacing the showroom experience.

-Blockchain: retail provides fertile ground for exploring its potential and possible applications.

Although consumer behavior has changed a lot due to the pandemic, digitalization can be used to increase traffic in brick-and-mortar stores, helping persuade consumers to go back to in-person shopping. 

“We have to re-think the customer journey: it doesn’t start in the shop, it starts at home,” for example through social media or click-and-collect tools, said Marcus Taubert, business development manager at M-Cube Group

Technological innovations can be used to engage customers with digital touchpoints, integrating digital and physical tools in an omnichannel strategy and creating a new shopping experience in a brick-and-mortar environment. Tools include digital windows instead of static content, touchscreen mirrors, virtual sales assistants, interactive lookbooks and technologies to foster social media sharing. 

Within this omnichannel approach, inventory is key, as only part of the inventory is physically in the store, said Diomedea’s CEO Enrico Cietta. Personalization is also key in designing the new shopping experience through digital technologies in brick-and-mortar stores, he added. 

Photo: © David Dvořáček on Unsplash