As per Chain Store Association of Pakistan (CAP), the country’s retail industry contributes 33 percent to services sector and more than 16 percent to country’s employment, becoming the highest contributor for skill development and value-addition in the economy with over fifty allied sectors including packaging, transportation, logistics, HR, IT, accountants, consultants, advertising and so forth. The reimplementation of the lockdown with a gap of mere three weeks, is evidence that the pandemic is here to stay and retailers have to find a way to rebound quickly to ensure the continuity of these sectors and economy.

Sluggish economy and lukewarm consumer confidence has driven a highly competitive and demanding setting for the retail landscape. Through reconfiguration of the retail sector,businesses are seeking options to effectively serve their customers beyond traditional channels to more of an Omni channel approach, uniting user experience from in-store to mobile browsing and everything in between.

To stay competitive, physical retail stores must continue evolving from the brick and mortar model to focus on delivering a unique customer experience. Observations in the last couple of months reported by Nielsen and McKinsey assert that companies along the retail spectrum who adopted this approach pivoted more easily during lockdowns as compared to those who stresson face-to-face engagement, making them vulnerable to shutdowns in the long-term.

From a civic point of view, public at large is mostly concerned about surviving through this difficult time while being isolated in their homes. Subjective threat of the pandemic initially triggered stockpiling items of daily use due to perceived scarcity, but as their fears tempered gradually with the realization that everything actually exists in relative abundance, they turned towards sensible shopping behavior.

In the present circumstances, where almost 80% of consumer surveys reflect that people are preferring to work, eat or cook more at home, it is expected that purchases for fresh food, kitchen items and home carewill continue to show higher growth rates in coming months. Convenient e-commerce delivery systems ensuring safe and hygienic supply of purchased products at the customer’s doorstep are proving to be ideal solutions during this crisis, helping to reduce all forms of unnecessary outdoor trips. This has led to increased consumer confidence for brands that succeeded in delivering consistent quality and price across their online and physical stores.

Therefore, in order to build more resilience in customer experience, the retailers should focus on meeting the Omni channel expectations by driving traffic to their digital assets while making the experience frictionless for consumers(along measures such as site speed, stability, and delivery times), bringing innovation into the Omni channel to give consumers an in-store feel, contactless payment methods, ease in checkout, timely restocking, redefining role of physical stores, and optimizing footprint after taking holistic measures into consideration.

For example, Carrefour, operated by Majid Al Futtaim in Pakistan, is a leader in this high-stakes adaptation in the country. The multinational brand has significantly increased its online and physical storefront sales by assuring its wide customer base that its stores are consistent with both quality and price of its products. The brand reacted quickly to stricter hygiene regulations with new ideas, electronic entrance controls, disinfection tunnels,new app within online ordering capability for safer shopping, contactless payments and deliveries are just a few instances to name.

Commenting on increased consumer demand, Jean-Marc Dumont Country Manager of Carrefour Pakistan at Majid Al FuttaimRetail said, “We will be adding further flexibility to online shopping by piloting a new service soon in Karachi and Lahore, that was launched recently in the UAE; consumers will be able toorder online, then select the store they wish to pick up their packaged items and a timeslot that fits their schedule. We place the utmost importance on our customers’ convenience and in doing so, are also adjusting ourselves to the new normal.”

As the digital usage rises and the new normal takes shape, retailers will be able to extract even more dynamic data for immediate insights regarding customer preferences and influx of new customers which will allow them to devise targeted strategies, messages and offers to maintain customer relationships in these testing times where people are cost conscious and more prone to brand switching.

In essence, retailers should be able to keep up with the speed of changing trends, development of new offerings and driving implementation; brands that can create convenience for their consumers today will have loyal customers’ tomorrow. For that reason, it is rightly said that a satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.

– The writer is a

communication specialist and a social commentator.