Behind the current retail revolution are an array of technologies to help businesses keep up with changing consumer preferences and market trends
Article by Dilys Chan | Illustration by Tim Hoar
Of all the industries undergoing massive change, retail arguably ranks near the top as the most disrupted due to the pandemic. Retailers that were already operating in a competitive environment before the pandemic were pushed to rapidly step up their e-commerce capabilities when lockdowns left them no other choice.
“Out of the blue, we saw a huge sea change in how people were shopping after March 2020,” says Donogh Roche, General Manager of WebSell, a Volaris-owned provider of e-commerce software for brick-and-mortar retailers. At the start of the pandemic, demand for WebSell’s product was so high that the company introduced an express service to get retailers online quickly.
“We saw an influx of demand from customers who were previously on the fence about e-commerce—and they were now clamoring to get web stores live quickly.”
-Donogh Roche, General Manager, WebSell
As a keen observer of the retail market, Roche says it has always been a challenge to convince traditional retailers to go online. Often, small to medium-sized brick-and-mortar retailers are still using legacy software and can be either unmotivated or nervous about getting online. At the same time, they continue to serve customers from older generations who aren't yet used to online shopping. All the while, they must keep up with retail trends in a market dominated by major players, such as big-box retailers and e-commerce giants like Amazon.
But the events of the last two years have pushed many resilient retailers to turn traditional ways of thinking around. After seeing how technology adoption helped them weather the storm of the pandemic, the savviest retailers now see further digitization as the key to tackling ongoing challenges. Opportunities for digitization are abundant not only through e-commerce channels, but also in brick-and-mortar stores.
Graph by Statista
Headwinds for Retailers in 2022 and Beyond
Even after COVID-related restrictions loosen, retailers continue to face challenges such as supply chain disruptions, and rising costs—with inflation hitting the highest levels in 40 years.
Staffing will be a particularly significant challenge for retailers, predicts Erna Hansen, CEO and General Manager of Windward Software, a Volaris-owned provider of business management software for brick-and-mortar retailers. She says that in a job searcher’s market with higher wage expectations, retailers will have to create more worker incentives.
“The ability to work from anywhere is appealing for many workers right now. Many retail jobs have inflexible work hours and require commuting to a retail location at a time when fuel prices are high. And of course, the higher risk of COVID exposure is an added deterrent to working in retail.”
-Erna Hansen, CEO and General Manager, Windward Software
Inflation and supply chain issues affecting imported parts and products continue to be key challenges for retailers. Supply chains that depend on “just-in-time” methods of replenishing inventory are especially challenged, says Hansen.
With all these challenges on the horizon, retailers may increasingly depend on software solutions to help run their businesses without interruption.
Supporting retail resilience with software
“Continuing to implement digitization and automation is important to every business in this climate,” says Hansen. “Retailers are seeing that technology can present new business opportunities and alternatives for growth and change.”
Windward and WebSell’s teams both speak frequently to customers and keep a pulse on the retail market. Hansen and Roche both see many opportunities to help retailers thrive in the new omnichannel retail landscape.
“For a small retailer marketing online, it can feel like they’re screaming into the void,” says Roche. “There’s a massive world of competitors online and you have to find a way to reach your audience and target customers. It’s a challenge we address for WebSell’s customers.”
Roche points out that as brick-and-mortar retailers return to normal, their new challenge is to balance omnichannel demands—that is, keeping a physical location open while also catering to customers who have become comfortable shopping online. If a retailer doesn’t have an integrated solution where the inventory in the retailer’s back office is in sync with the listings on their online store, then the customer will lack an accurate idea of whether a product is in stock. WebSell’s product fulfills that niche where the market has overlooked it.
Together, WebSell and Windward are addressing a customer pain point for customers who don't have e-commerce yet. WebSell's solution can integrate with Windward's point-of-sale (POS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. As a result, WebSell can already count at least ten new customers gained through cross-selling to Windward customers. It's a great success for WebSell and Roche after less than a year at Volaris.
Windward and WebSell both see themselves playing a helpful role in introducing technology opportunities to retailers.
- E-commerce solutions with combined marketing and distribution services can help retailers grow their retail businesses, says Hansen. For a typical Windward customer, competing with Amazon’s model is futile, so unique product and service offerings outside of Amazon’s wheelhouse are important for her clients.
- In-store technology and automation, along with warehouse technologies and automation can improve stock management and workflow.
- Distribution technology and field service mobile solutions can assist with after-sale value-added services that retailers offer customers or can begin to offer customers.
- Data systems can help run operations more efficiently, improve the customer experience, and support business decisions that can shape the future growth of the business.
- Compliance with online accessibility regulations is often overlooked, says Roche, who points out that older shoppers or those with impaired vision may struggle with e-commerce sites. Retailers may not be aware they can be subject to lawsuits if their websites don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). WebSell has built compliance into its platform.
In the rapidly changing retail market, increasing digitization is a trend that looks set to continue. As more retailers become ready to step deeper into the digital world, Volaris software providers are waiting to help them meet that challenge.