Thursday , November 26, 2020

COMMENTARY: In the Age of Covid, It’s Time For Retailers to Shift to Digital Offers

Covid-19 has been highly disruptive to the U.S. retail sector, with research estimating sales will fall by 10.5% this year. The same forecast suggests small, mainly brick-and-mortar retailers will see a 14% drop in sales. Even now, months after the pandemic’s first appearance in the U.S market, forty-five percent of consumers are still uncomfortable shopping in public.

Now, as a second wave of the pandemic sits poised to reintroduce restrictions for already struggling businesses, retailers must be more agile than ever before. Businesses will need to find innovative ways to keep current customers while winning others back and capitalizing, both nationally and locally, on quickly evolving market environments and consumer buying habits. 

These same retailers will now also be vying for the biggest possible share of an already cautious, smaller consumer base to regain losses incurred during lockdown. All that comes in the midst of a longstanding battle between rival retailers putting personalized offers, mobile payments, and recommendations powered by artificial intelligence center stage to capture the spending power of the much-coveted Gen Z.

The solution for small and mid-size merchants is to offer customers and prospective customers tailored, relevant offers, maybe enticing new customers with one-off cashback offers or personalizing loyalty programs through improved tailoring of promotions to location, time, and shopping behavior to build a long-term customer base. 

Sezgin: “Despite Covid’s uncertainty, new digital services mean disruption doesn’t have to stop innovative promotions and reward schemes.”

Whatever their choice, onboarding such promotions to aggregator sites quickly can provide a timely boost for retailers that want to entice customers back post-Covid.

Speed is of the essence, but a lack of digital onboarding systems has meant retail-offer aggregators have been slow in bringing merchants onto their platforms. This causes retailers, particularly in local communities, to lose out on swift gains to grow their customer base.

On top of Covid-induced delays, many existing onboarding methods are fully manual. Aggregator companies that sign up U.S. retailers for offers routinely require physical forms or set-up via the phone. 

By contrast, making the onboarding and creation processes digital offers retailers a rapid alternative for generation and distribution of promotions across offer aggregators. 

It’s a natural progression from lengthy phone calls or contact forms for each individual promotion to complete such forms on a dedicated Web site. The process can be further accelerated with the direct integration of digital contracts with e-signatures and links to accounting software such as QuickBooks to generate invoices. 

An end-to-end digital toolkit of this kind allows retailers to devise and onboard full offers online, allowing retailers to create and push promotions out to consumers in a matter of minutes. 

Digital services and complete toolkits developed by fintechs in direct collaboration with offer aggregators and retailers are now beginning to reach the retail sector. These allow retailers to instantly upload onto U.S. aggregator sites sales promotions for both in-store and online purchases. Offers can be targeted to both a local and national level as part of retailers’ responses to lockdown levels and Covid-19 restrictions on a state-by-state basis.

These services are the next step in the digitization of legacy and manual processes. Capitalizing early will allow retailers to seize new opportunities by producing and distributing appropriate offers for both online or onsite purchases through card-management and loyalty apps. 

Despite Covid’s uncertainty, new digital services mean disruption doesn’t have to stop innovative promotions and reward schemes. Transitioning to a digital onboarding toolkit finally does away with excessive development time, allowing retailers to frequently change promotions in response to consumer sentiment shifts and retail conditions.

—Mehmet Sezgin is chief executive and founder of myGini Inc., San Francisco.

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