Covid-19 has impacted everyone around the globe including the retail industry. The shift to digital has been well underway for years in retail but today, retailers have a new sense of urgency to digitally transform as the industry responds to Covid-19. The pandemic has dramatically impacted the retail industry at-large, exposing gaps in omnichannel capabilities, business continuity plans and supply chain responsiveness.
Today’s environment is uncharted territory for most retailers. Government-imposed lockdowns, social distancing guidelines, rapid changes in consumer behaviour and uneven demand for different product categories have introduced challenges to retailers around the globe. For retailers, crisis planning typically covers events in which a set of stores or warehouses are down due to natural disasters or other power outages. However, closing down all stores or supporting demand surging to 20 times normal is a new dynamic that many retailers hadn’t contemplated previously.
The pandemic has also had a polarising effect on retailers. On one hand, grocery and mass merchandisers are experiencing unprecedented surges while retailers in other categories like fashion and beauty are experiencing declines in many product categories. As we look to the future, we know that recovery will take time and will vary by sub-segment.
To help retailers tackle these challenges, Google Cloud has a number of industry-tailored solutions to support customers and partners during this time.
G Suite collaboration tools
As some retailers, particularly those in grocery and mass merchandise, experience a rapid rise in hiring to fulfil unprecedented demand, they’re realising how critical it is to build and maintain collaboration with their employees. G Suite offers video conferencing, chat, email and shared documents, allowing teams to efficiently work together remotely and in real-time.
Rapid Response Virtual Agent program
Google’s newly launched Rapid Response Virtual Agent solution allows retailers to stand up new chatbot-based services within two weeks to help respond to their customers more quickly and efficiently, especially as it relates to critical information around Covid-19. This new chatbot can help with store hours inquiries, inventory questions, pick-up options and more, offloading an immense amount of calls going to human agents, so they can focus on more complex service needs.
Accelerated migration and PSO migration factory solutions
Rapid changes in customer demand are causing significant capital and expense constraints. Accelerating the migration of IT systems to Google Cloud can help retailers quickly cut fixed costs, reduce their operational overhead and set up the right infrastructure to map to their changing business needs while ensuring business continuity during unexpected business disruptions.
Capacity Management and Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM) Assistance solutions
Buying behaviour has changed drastically, with atypical demand for some retail sub-segments and extreme declines for others. This, paired with sudden shifts from in-store to online has caused a strain on omnichannel capabilities. Through early capacity planning, reliability testing, and operational war rooms, Google can help retailers quickly rightsize cloud deployments to reflect the changing needs of their businesses. Google has also activated its special peak season support protocols for retailers seeing e-commerce traffic surges.
As customer expectations shift during this time, providing a top-tier digital experience has become increasingly important. Having a flexible and agile e-commerce platform is crucial to enable retail teams to quickly introduce new shopping experiences to keep up with ever-changing demands. Google Cloud can help untangle legacy e-commerce systems, introducing a containerised architecture that provides flexibility and agility for businesses.
Google Cloud’s demand forecasting and modelling capabilities
For retailers, shifts in consumer spending present both a near-term need for a responsive supply chain and a longer-term need to predict how customer behaviour changes will impact demand. With Google Cloud’s AI/ML capabilities, retailers can develop custom models based on their own data and signals to accurately forecast future demand of products at any given location, reducing lost revenue through stockouts, excessive discounting and markdowns, inventory holding and spoilage costs. Retailers can also use Google Cloud’s broad range of public datasets including weather, traffic and more to better forecast demand down to the store level.
Google Cloud/Looker solutions
With the substantial disruption in business due to Covid-19, it’s imperative for retailers to rely even more on data that is real-time and reliable. Google Cloud and Looker provide pre-built data models and analytics packages called “Blocks” that are specific for retail needs. With these pre-built resources, Looker can help quickly deliver solutions that transcend traditional business intelligence offerings such as reports and dashboards. By bringing multiple datasets across an organisation together, retailers can create data experiences that help optimise in-store operations, increase retail margins and improve customer lifetime value.
Looker is also fully integrated with Google Cloud for Marketing solutions, allowing retailers to make informed marketing decisions in real-time. Through this integration, they’re able to bring all of their marketing data from Google together for analysis to see how changes on Google Ads, YouTube and Google Analytics affect one another. Retailers across all sub-segments can discover real-time insights and immediately implement changes within ongoing marketing programs.
Now more than ever, the retail industry needs to adapt to this new era by bringing forward technologies. This will eliminate the stress tied to keeping the lights on in IT and instead allow retailers to focus on what matters most: their customers and employees.