Loyalty: ask any retailer what they want and the chances are this will come up. But now, consumers are faced with more choice than ever before: dozens of coffee shops line our streets, but we could also choose to order our coffee online; we can pop to the supermarket, do an online order, or order a takeaway for dinner; and we can now even choose whether to head to the flower market or subscribe to an ongoing flower delivery service. Before the pandemic hit, these choices were largely for the digital natives of the world, but multiple national lockdowns have left even the tech-averse among us to adopt technology in new ways as a digital life became the safest – and sometimes only – option.

Over the past year, retailers have provided consumers with a new level of ease and convenience when shopping online. Things became simpler and easier to navigate, from online browsing and purchasing, to online customer service and returning goods. This rise in comfortability with online shopping, alongside an increase in price sensitivity, increased expectations regarding customer experience, and access to an abundance of choice, makes for an extremely competitive environment and even more pressure on getting it right.

Now that high streets have opened back up, and footfall is on the up, retailers face a difficult challenge: how to continue this increase in footfall, as well as adhering to new customer expectations and keeping them engaged online.

So what’s the solution? It's now vital for retailers to use everything they have learned during the pandemic to inform their omnichannel strategies. Offering a coherent experience between in-store and online channels by bridging the gap with technology, is key.

As curbside pickups, self-checkout tills and mobile purchases became increasingly mainstream to offer frictionless online shopping journeys to cater to Covid-19 restrictions, retailers are now armed with valuable insights that they can use to feed their hybrid strategies. Technologies such as AR and VR have also played a vital role for retailers looking to compensate for lack of physical store experiences and face-to-face interactions. 

The second half of the year will be a testing one for many retailers as they try to juggle changing environments, changing customer expectations and the ever-evolving opportunities that tech offers. But, if they focus on utilising technology across all channels - both on and offline - their bricks and mortar and e-commerce stores should work hand-in-hand, making it simple and seamless for customers to switch between online and in-store shopping, customer queries and returns without giving it a second thought.