The Pandemic Accelerated Retail Technology Product Launches

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the retail industry to make huge transitions almost overnight, including in digital transformations and technology innovations.

More than half of retail executives say the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated new technology-related product launches at the company, according to a report from the National Retail Federation. Nearly three-quarters of retail executives said their company’s digital transformation accelerated by at least one year as a result of COVID-19. Another 73% said the pandemic accelerated the company’s technology-related investments. 

The findings underscore just how quickly retailers adapted to dramatic shifts in consumer behavior. Amid lockdown measures, retailers quickly shifted to digital solutions for online orders for deliveries and in-store pickups. 

“Technology will continue to be used to improve operational efficiencies and elevate the customer experience, positively impacting brand perception as a result,” said Michelle Evans, senior head of digital consumer at Euromonitor International, which created the report with NRF.

Without the ability to bring consumers inside for a period of 2020, retailers flocked to technology solutions such as virtual reality and livestreaming. And the new formats are working. In the last month, nearly 30% of consumers made a purchase through livestreaming, according to findings from Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Digital Survey fielded in March 2021. Livestreaming is doing very well in China, where 63% of consumers have adapted to its use, compared to 29% in the U.S. Of those who have used VR or augmented reality while shopping, 30% have used it for household items and furniture and clothes.

Walmart is one mass retailer exploring VR with a virtual fitting room that enables customers to see how clothes would look on their body type. In May Walmart announced it was acquiring Zeekit, a virtual fitting room company. 

Other retailers focused on new technology investments that improved in-store convenience and safety. Nearly 40% of consumers named scan-as-you-go, smart cart and walk-in, walk-out technologies as their top desired features.

Even as consumers return to in-store shopping as states reopen, many new technology investments are likely to come--some may even be in the form of in-store robots or micro-chips as a payment method.