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Forrester: Digital Growth, Consumer Convenience Will Drive The ‘Next Normal’

  • June 11, 2020 at 11:00 AM EDT
  • By Alicia Esposito
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Over the past four months, retailers have been scrambling to adapt and respond to customer behaviors that have emerged due to the coronavirus pandemic. Solution providers also have joined the fray, creating new solutions and services to help businesses stay open — and even uncover new revenue opportunities — as we venture into the “New Normal,” or what Aptos calls the “Next Normal.”

COVID-19 sparked disruption that no one in the industry was prepared for, but while many companies were forced to pivot, Aptos is “completely staying the course on our strategy,” according to CEO and culture leader Noel Goggin. He shared details of the company’s successes, priorities and future objectives during the company’s Engage Digital conference, a virtual adaptation of its annual user event.

A key feature of this “Next Normal” will involve advances in omnichannel, which Brendan Witcher, Principal Analyst for Digital Business Strategy at Forrester, noted is in its first or second inning. During his keynote, Witcher emphasized that retailers will need to refocus on omnichannel fundamentals in order to prepare for the future — a future that includes cutting-edge services and experiences such as conversational commerce, IoT commerce and shoppable video.

“Today’s consumers are agnostic to channels. Digital is everywhere and it’s ubiquitous,” said Witcher. As a result, consumers are using digital in completely new ways and “quite frankly, shop in ways that we’ve never thought about.”

However, retailers that are only focusing on their core competitors to drive their investments are limiting their perspectives, Witcher noted. Instead, retailers should think of all the experiences that consumers will interact with, even beyond shopping, because those experiences will ultimately influence their demands and expectations. Witcher pointed to clever (and imaginary) partnerships that can make consumers’ lives better and easier, such as Scope mouthwash and the dating app Tinder.

Although many retailers have implemented “tier one” capabilities such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), organizations should focus on enabling the next tier, such as buy online, pick up in-locker. However, omnichannel excellence involves far more than fulfillment: it also includes engagement, products and pricing, powered by a single view of the customer.

Because there is no “silver bullet” for how retailers should approach omnichannel, Witcher instead outlined a checklist of areas that retailers need to focus on, including:

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  • Culture;
  • Organization;
  • Technology; and
  • Metrics.

“Will it get easier?” Witcher asked. “No. We’re creating digital experiences everywhere; they’re ubiquitous and we’re creating more platforms for customers to engage with us.”

Move To The Cloud Supports Positive Outlook

 “COVID has actually validated and increased our conviction that we’re on the path,” said Aptos’ Goggin in his remarks. He pointed to solution provider’s expansion into new geographic territories, including customer wins in Chile, Thailand and the Philippines.

However, it has been the emphasis on cloud and omnichannel solutions that have really helped Aptos maintain momentum while the industry navigated heightened uncertainty and volatility.

“We now have 60% of our business in the cloud, and that gives us a lot of confidence in our own business and longer-term ability to make bigger bets as we make investments on a go-forward basis,” said Goggin. Additionally, Goggin pointed to “stunning performance” during the COVID period among retailers that have adopted Aptos ONE, which powers omnichannel experiences.

‘We’re In The Healthcare Business, Whether We Like It Or Not’

“COVID has been very unpredictable, has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, personally and professionally,” Goggin noted. This type of environment requires “a lot of agility and very strong leadership.” Underscoring the company’s long-term commitment to innovation, he delved into Aptos’ three-phase response to COVID-19:

  • Navigate the now: Aptos created new quick-start programs and services, designed to support retail customers that wanted to provide contactless and curbside experiences to customers, similar to what The Home Depot was able to successfully execute.

    “In many cases, we’re in the healthcare business, whether we like it or not,” Goggin said. “The consumer has a heightened set of expectations from a shopping experience standpoint. You as a retailer have to balance that and safety with the incremental cost it will require to actually serve customers in a post-COVID environment.”

    Other retailers were able to successfully adapt to the shift online by offering digital services. Fast Fish is a China-based retailer with 2,400 stores in that market. When the retailer had to close stores, it enabled store associates to do livestreaming in order to engage with and sell to customers. Due to the success of this initiative, the retailer has transformed two floors at its headquarters into livestreaming studios.
  • Plan the comeback: Economists are now questioning not just the timing of a recovery but its shape. While some anticipate a sharp “V” shape, others predict a more gradual recovery timeline. However, Goggin shared exclusive insight into Aptos cloud customers, pointing to “pent-up demand” that’s driving recovery among retailers with brick-and-mortar stores.

    “Now it’s starting to rebound in a very robust and quick fashion, which leads us to believe that the recovery is probably stronger than some of us expected and imagined,” Goggin said. Even combining store results with digital, he pointed to very similar, dramatic increases in May.
  • Shape the Next Normal: “As we really start to get our minds around the Next Normal, it is imperative that we have a material shift in mindset, talent, capital allocation and organizational energy, to take this moment and use COVID as a catalyst for change in our organizations,” Goggin said. He pointed to the massive opportunity for businesses to make positive change and reimagine things that are no longer working. Aptos, for instance is doubling down on both research and development and M&As moving forward.

Rethinking Required For Stores, Planning And Customer Experience

To close out his opening remarks, Goggin highlighted five key shifts that Aptos believes retailers will need to prepare for:

  1. Online shopping habits continue to grow. Digital transformation is going to be needed across all channels, not just with online shopping, to create a seamless experience.

  2. Consumer demand for convenience will increase. Contactless payment, cashless transactions, subscriptions, universal carts and other services make consumers’ lives easier. Retailers will need to test, learn, adjust and scale in order to ensure they provide the right mix of services that meet consumers’ needs and expectations.

  3. The role of the store will adapt. The brick-and-mortar store will no longer be a selling platform but a place to offer services around your products, including fulfillment. Goggin also pointed to stores as a great platform for testing out livestreaming. However, the critical component of the next-gen store is safety.

  4. Retail will need to rethink traditional planning. Product lifecycles will need to shorten. Additionally, as businesses work to minimize travel and adopt more digital collaboration, faster, more tech-driven planning using Virtual Reality (VR) and other types of augmented reality (AR) will help optimize planning.
  5. Seamless, omnichannel experiences will become even more critical to creating loyalty. Because consumers have now witnessed the value of curbside and other omnichannel fulfillment options, retailers will need to focus on ensuring these offerings aren’t just efficient but also are profitable for their business.

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