Retailing in the Post Covid-19 World

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As countries across the globe recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the hottest topics of discussion among retailers is not only what shape the economic recovery in retail will take but also what retailer operations and overall strategies will look like moving forward.

Throughout the pandemic, lockdowns and safety restrictions have forced retailers to tweak their operations and strategies in accordance with changing circumstances around them. AI has played a key role in helping retailers adapt to the conditions of today and those on the horizon. 

With that in mind, here are three key areas where AI is helping retailers cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Solving Supply Chain Challenges

Supply chain disruptions have been a key pain point for retailers over the course of the last year and have completely upended the existing models and forecasts that retailers had in place in terms of manufacturing and sourcing. As a result, this has meant that retailers have had to quickly identify alternate manufacturing and sourcing partners while tweaking their existing sourcing plans to cope with the unexpected market conditions they are now facing. This is of course a hugely challenging proposition without the help of sophisticated computing and AI. 

By leveraging AI, retailers have been able to become more agile and responsive to supply chain and sourcing disruptions. For example, for decades, tracking manufacturing and supply chain performance has been a painstaking process for retailers, entailing endless hours of manual data gathering, data synthesizing, and reporting. Moreover, by the time this was all done, many of the key insights had likely become outdated.

AI has changed this dynamic completely, allowing retailers to gain real-time insights into manufacturing performance and supply chain disruptions so that they can adapt at a moment’s notice — rather than days or weeks later. 

Additionally, through the power of AI, retailers can even simulate supply disruptions to ensure that they are as prepared as possible when faced with any future disturbances as well.

Optimizing the Customer Journey  

From the way customers search, to the very items they are looking to purchase, no aspect of the retail industry has been more impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than the customer journey. Furthermore, given how rapidly digital shopping displaced in-store shopping as the primary purchasing method, and how quickly retailers were forced to speed up digital transformation efforts, it has never been more challenging for retailers to understand the customer journey.  

To combat this, retailers have started to lean much more heavily into their data assets — such as previous purchase data, coupon activity, or past product searches — to create a unified data layer that links offline and online behaviors to build a much more comprehensive view of consumer activity.

From there, retailers have begun to embrace AI solutions to further amplify these insights and offer a much better customer journey, including such things as improving customer communications, orchestrating customer journeys, and boosting marketing engagement.

Virtual Customer Care Operations 

Unfortunately, customer care operations have also been significantly impacted as a result of the pandemic, with many retail businesses struggling to keep up with the new demands being placed on support teams due to budget constraints and shifting operations. And given how important customer care is during the best of times, meeting customer expectations during the pandemic has become even more pivotal as the retail space becomes more competitive and revenues shrink.

Retailers are leveraging AI to help optimize the customer care experience and make it much more personalized.  

Building a customer profile is a very time- and labor-intensive task. However, by pairing existing data with AI tools, retailers can develop a much better understanding of each customer, their past experiences and interests.

From there, retailers can deliver a more informed customer care response and also provide a better follow-up experience to make sure that each customer relationship is as well maintained as possible.

Bhaskar Roy is Client Partner at Fractal Analytics.