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Post-pandemic world set to see retailers invest in more tech – kiosks may hold the key

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recent study by Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work found that the world’s largest retailers show a renewed focus on combining the best of physical and online shopping to reignite sustained growth in the decades to come.

Even as some retail stores cautiously re-open for business, others have shuttered for good. Some stores are now used as local warehouses, known as dark stores, to improve retailers’ delivery to consumers; others have left gaping holes in their wake; their absence now raises big questions about how to redefine what is left behind.

Meanwhile, over the past year and a half, more consumers have turned to online shopping for reasons such as their health (groceries and necessities) and their sanity (shopping for the not-so-necessary items). However, as we look to the future, the balance of physical and virtual still has some way to go before a new equilibrium is found.

Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work research found that respondents are still reeling from the pandemic-induced “retail apocalypse,” even amid consistent online and overall retail industry growth. Now, however, retailers appear ready to turn the corner with renewed focus on meeting customer needs through innovation and the use of digital technology.

According to the report, retail executives plan to hike their investment in technology by 50% between now and 2023 (from 6% to 9% of revenues). To close the gap with the digital elite, traditional retailers will need to make the funding of technology initiatives a sustained priority over the next few years.

At least 40% of retailers have gone beyond the pilot stage of implementing analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to create experiences that bring the best of the physical world to the virtual, and vice-versa. New models of retail will result that seamlessly blend the two worlds.

The percentage of revenues retailers expect from digital channels is above the cross-industry average but still far below the segment of respondents deemed “digital-first,” based on their percentage of online sales and growth rate. Retailers need to keep aiming high to meet their stated digital ambitions and those set by the pandemic.

The widespread movement towards finding new purpose for our homes, including working remotely, isn’t just a COVID-19 fad—it’s here to stay. As consumers continue to set up their spaces with equipment for work, exercise and entertainment, and engage in online shopping behaviours, retailers will need to respond. More than half of retail leaders said they will rely more on digital channels for customer interactions, as well as digital working practices for themselves.

The increased reliance on digital tools and ever-growing sophistication of hackers put businesses at ever greater risk of operational disruption. Retailers have taken note, with 63% of executives listing digital terrorism as a concern.

An overwhelming 86% of retailers anticipate a global talent shortage for workers. While automation and robotics will fill a portion of that gap, the race is on for organisations to cultivate deep talent pools for the work ahead.

Robert Hoyle Brown, VP for Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, says: “In the aftermath of the rush to online shopping, it seems the onus is on retailers to find new ways, physically and virtually, of providing a communal space that fulfils consumers’ desire for engagement, discovery and aspiration for something ‘more.’ Retailers tend to approach the future with much trepidation and only after proven success from others. The work ahead calls for active experimentation and long-term focus to meet customers where they will be in five-, seven- or even 10-year time horizons.”

How kiosks help with low-impact check-out

One way that retailers can bridge the digital-physical divide in store is with kiosks. As shoppers start to return to stores, the need for a low-contact checkout –  particularly in the convenience, speciality, small format grocery and hospitality sectors – has become paramount. And Toshiba hopes it has the answer.

The Pro-X Hybrid Kiosk is a versatile small footprint kiosk, which integrates convertible POS technology that gives the retailer the flexibility to immediately react on customer flow, while always providing an easy to use, secure and seamless shopping experience for customers.

Toshiba’s solution enables retailers to enhance the in-store customer experience by proactively managing queues, meeting shopper’s expectations of a fast and frictionless checkout, and providing more self-service touchpoints where needed. It also helps preserve precious counter space for retailers with its small footprint that can perform self-checkout or traditional register functionality to meet the shoppers’ and retailers’ needs.

Rob Macintyre, European Business Development Executive of Toshiba, explains: “The self-service industry continues to evolve as retailers across all retail segments invest in digital capabilities to support shoppers’ expectations of low-contact checkout. We are delighted to work with Worldline to bring checkout innovation to retailers across the European marketplace. Now, they bring their payment expertise and Tetra Lane 3000 augmenting the Pro-X Hybrid Kiosk to provide a next-level checkout experience to customers.”

Lee Jones, Managing Director Northern Europe, GSV at Worldline, adds: “As the way consumers want to pay is evolving, Worldline is committed to staying ahead of the game in order to keep our retailers relevant in this ever-changing market. That’s why we are proud to continue our close cooperation as a trusted global payments leader with Toshiba. This partnership strengthens our joint ability to deliver innovative end-to-end solutions, and together we are creating an even stronger offering.”

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