Written by Louise Bou Rached, Key Account Manager, Middle East, Milestone Systems
While the retail sector was already going through a period of great transformation, the pandemic pushed retailers to face these challenges from one day to the next. No longer for the sole purpose of differentiating themselves and becoming more competitive, but for their survival.
According to a report by Reportlinker.com, the UAE retail market was valued at $55 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow to $75 billion by 2025 due to various factors such as rising per capita income, growing tourism industry, increasing expatriate population and rising number of upcoming development projects in the country.
A combined effect of the adoption of AI, IoT, Big Data Analytics, among other advanced technology along with major events such as the Dubai World Expo 2020, will further boost the tourism, transportation, and manufacturing industries in the country.
However, in 2021, even after the lockdown restrictions have been lifted to a great extent, most people want to avoid crowded places like malls, shops or public places regardless of their size. Amazon, a relatively new player in the region, saw its sales in the GCC grow by 26 percent to $76 billion in the first quarter of 2020. The pandemic-related movement restrictions have led to a shift in shopping habits in the region with e-commerce expected to double in the next 5 years.
The equation is simple: if fewer people can or want to enter a store, there will also be fewer sales opportunities and, consequently, less business.
So, how can retailers adapt to this ‘new normal’, not only providing safety for their customers but also optimizing the sales and purchasing experience in a way that will make the buyers want to leave e-commerce and come back to the stores? Technology is and will be among the core assets to address both challenges – safety and the brick-and-mortar experience.
Let’s look at the current situation. Although stores are slowly going back to 70% or more, it is happening under strict hygiene and safety restrictions. As an assessment by epidemiologists in the science journal Science shows, these distancing rules (“social distancing”) will remain an important part of the fight against the virus to prevent renewed waves of infection in 2021 and beyond. This presents many retailers with a range of challenges and questions:
How can I make sure that my store is not overcrowded?
Which area of my store is most frequented and when?
How do I know if the minimum distance between people is being respected?
How can I determine if all customers entering the store are wearing a face mask if required?
Every business is trying to create a secure environment for their employees and customers in the current situation.
The existing and new video technologies can increase your efficiency and sales, both now and into the future. After all, the same solutions that help you comply with the coronavirus regulations can provide you with interesting insights into your customers’ buying behavior after the crisis.
For example, what products are the customers most interested in? What paths are people taking within the store? What is the most frequent customer type? All these insights can be collected while respecting privacy and complying with data protection regulations.
What is the most profitable solution?
The attitude that can guarantee a return on investments is not installing new products with the idea of unplugging them when the emergency is over. The most profitable choice is the system that doesn’t merely solve the challenges of today, but also offers possibilities for the future.
For example, a camera equipped with thermal technology costs more than a simple thermo-scanner, but while the latter will no longer have reason to exist when the emergency is over, a thermal camera can be used for surveillance, people counting, video analysis, etc. In two words: for protection and marketing!
Indeed, the attitude among retailers has changed during these unprecedented times. Many have seen how technology isn’t just a cost, but rather a benefit if perceived from a longer-term perspective.
As the corona pandemic has clearly demonstrated, it is impossible to predict what the future holds. This calls for an open and flexible platform offering the possibility of integrating any new technology that can be used to address future challenges.