Like many others, when the realities of Covid-19 started to hit, I had no idea what was about to happen. RetailNext is singularly focused on retail, with many of our customers being in the new “non-essential” category – so that was a real concern. I was planning to get married on June 27, and that was up in the air. My then 2nd grader was suddenly without a daily routine, wandering aimlessly around the house asking for more screen time. It was terrifying.
Fast forward 6 months and a lot has changed. Spoiler alert: I did get married. In a much different way than planned, but somehow perfect in its own simplicity. My son has also found his groove with his new and improved distance learning plan (although we are all getting our heads around the fact that it’s extended at least until December). And guess what!? Brick and Mortar retail is still alive and the innovation that has been creeping along for years is accelerating at a breakneck pace. New applications for customer experience options have been well documented with options like curbside pickup, virtual appointments, and lots of new tools to communicate with associates as store staff have been reduced and store visits are almost a thing of the past (for now).
One of the biggest surprises for me is how quickly retailers adopted a whole new set of standard operating procedures that were, in all honesty, anything but. Retailers who were used to running a large fleet of locations in identical ways, with near-identical processes and identical metrics measurements are now faced with something we’ve never seen before. Mass closures, sporadic reopenings, new rules for what is allowed at physical locations and who is allowed in-store have all tested the limits of even the most nimble retail organizations. Suddenly, there are a whole new set of demands being put on retailers and their partners.
Almost immediately, our customers started asking “how can we leverage our traffic counting to understand occupancy.” Over the years, customers would occasionally ask this question but never with enough conviction of the end-use case to make it a priority for our team. This time was different. The need was real, and in some markets, critical to reopening any retail location that wasn’t deemed “essential”. In a matter of weeks, our incredible team had turned out a new solution that provided this important metric to our customers via our dashboard or via API, at no additional cost mind you.
In parallel, we started having numerous conversations with companies who were thinking about the communication bridge between retailers and their customers. It turns out, this occupancy data was critical to a lot of this experience. Customers were looking to understand how busy stores were, could they put themselves in a virtual queue, could they be notified if curbside pickup was a better option than going into the store, was there a staff member available for a virtual appointment. All of these functionalities that consumers had been dreaming about, and that retail futurists have been talking about, were suddenly becoming commonplace. All in the span of 6 months. We now have 40 or so of these integrations live or in our queue, and almost every customer I speak to mentions one of these integrations as being critical for “go live by holiday”.
Seeing all of this momentum, but not intimately involved with every account at RetailNext, I recently asked the question to our product team “How many of our top 10 customers are leveraging our occupancy data”. I was thrilled, but not surprised to hear that all but one are using the data. The use cases vary – from internal functions like labor planning and task management to external/customer-facing integrations for digital display to communicate occupancy levels and limits, virtual queuing, appointment setting, location and occupancy level based marketing messages, and more. In such a short span of time, so many applications with real impact on consumers and their shopping experiences have come to market. Covid-19 realities aside, I am really excited to see what our customers (and our product and engineering team) build together in the next six months. I am equally excited to see how these applications shape the holiday shopping season – from my count, December 25 is less than 100 days away!
RetailNext is supporting retailers in reopening stores through occupancy capabilities. Learn more here!