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By Matthew Furneaux, Director of Location Intelligence at GBG

COVID-19 has shaken the world as we know it, and existing ways of working and living have been flipped on their heads. The ‘first wave’ saw the vast majority of the population confined to their homes, and generations were relying on technology to access essential services, communicate with family and friends, and work remotely. 

As a result, we’ve accelerated towards a digital-first world, where technology lies at the heart of society’s infrastructure. This switch to digital has had rippling affects across industries, especially retail.

With the risk of COVID-19 still in the midst, and many non-essential stores shut for the first few months of the pandemic, consumers who had never headed to websites to do their shopping – I call them ‘Generation Zoom’ – suddenly had to rely on the power of global ecommerce. As such, the digital-first economy is booming as ecommerce becomes the new normal for many.

This surge in ecommerce hasn’t come as a surprise. Shifts in consumer demands have been present for a long time, as technology becomes intrinsic to daily life. In fact, last year it was estimated that global ecommerce was worth $5.353bn, and it’s expected to exceed $6.542bn in the next three years. 

Even as the shops re-open their doors, many will continue to opt to shop from the comfort of their own homes, rather than facing the socially-distanced stores.

Consequently, we’re seeing digital first retailers investing in high-street brands. For example, Boohoo recently acquired Oasis and Warehouse in a bid to capture an older audience as ‘Generation Zoom’ shoppers continue their venture online. One thing is clear: digital commerce is here to stay. 

Behind the scenes, location technology is proving vital to this movement, acting as the secret driving force of ecommerce operations. GBG’s latest International Retail Index found that 92% of businesses have revolutionised their offerings with ‘location-based technology’, from increasing revenue and enhancing user experience, to streamlining operations and boosting efficiency.  

Let’s dive into the ins-and-outs of location technology, and how it’s helping to power the digital economy. 

Driving digital game-changers

For retailers in the current climate, moving to digital is a win or lose situation. As more and more retailers embed digital-first strategies in to the core of their operations, the market is becoming increasingly competitive. Optimal customer experience and frictionless backend operations are key – if these aren’t delivered, customers can easily turn to a competitor.

To ensure this, digital-native retailers such as Gymshark are adopting location technology. Fuelling everything from address verification and confirming personal details, to verifying identities and providing seamless, contactless delivery services, location tech is helping businesses reach out to consumers as they scale up and speed into the digital era. 

Access without borders

Success in the wake of COVID-19 will be defined by the ability to reach customers wherever they are in the world. Businesses can ensure quick checkout services and smooth delivery operations by integrating addresses and location data across 100+ worldwide countries. Not only will this boost speed and efficiency, it will also open up the possibility of reaching a global market.

Beyond this, final-mile experts such as what3words are developing new technologies to power delivery no matter what the location or address. Not only has this opened up delivery to a borderless audience, it has also revolutionised contactless deliveries – drivers can leave packages in a specific spot, as identified by the customer. 

Boosting income

Failed deliveries comes at a cost – across the UK, US and Germany, the average cost of each failed delivery is $17.78. Efficiency when it comes to delivery processes is therefore vital. By deploying location tech, businesses can streamline operations, mitigate the risk of failed deliveries, cut back on redelivery costs, and optimise delivery speed and accuracy. 

As well as the practical benefits, location tech also enhances online customer service by providing location updates, contactless delivery options, and the ability to amend delivery addresses and timings. 

Providing a personalised experience

Depending on location, each customer journey will be different, and location technology plays a fundamental role in developing customised experiences and delivery options. Retailers can now offer separate ecommerce sites depending on regions, each with regional-specific availability updates, language options and currency.

For example, ASOS now offers a ‘rest of world’ and ‘rest of Europe’ site to align with customer locations, and is planning to expand this initiative across 200 markets. As well as personalising the customer experience, this also streamlines the digital shopping process and helps customers to navigate the online site quickly. 

Securing future success

It’s without doubt that the retail sector will experience the impact of COVID-19 for years to come. Switching back to old consumer habits won’t happen overnight, and therefore retailers should keep their ecommerce momentum going if they are to futureproof their business.

The new normal for retailers will revolve around mobile devices, online shopping platforms, excellent customer experiences and flawless delivery. For brands looking to evolve their digital offerings, or develop their online presence from scratch, location-based technology will ultimately be the driving force behind their success.