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Fleet Management 8 min read

Life after COVID-19: how social distancing is disrupting retail

Life after COVID-19: how social distancing is disrupting retail

COVID-19 has put global retail into a tailspin. Could technological innovation be the way out of it?

Whether you're selling cars or carpet, if your customers can't come to you, use technology to take your product and services to them. Social distancing is disrupting retail. Is your business ready for it? These are some of the ways tech could help.

Contact-free collection

Supermarkets and online retailers have been offering click-and-collect as an alternative to delivery or in-store collection for a few years now. In COVID times, it's emerged as the perfect way to engage with customers in a contactless way. B&Q, one of the UK's largest DIY chains, has adapted its click-and-collect model during the crisis, allowing customers to order online and pick up their purchase at a pre-destined time and location.

Now, the concept could be applied to car sales. In the UK, car dealerships are currently closed but sales are continuing online with contactless delivery to people's homes.

However, Vertu Motors chief executive Robert Forrester believes home delivery isn't viable for many dealers. He said in a blog post on Auto Retail Network: “Franchised retailers are not currently set up for mass home deliveries. Aside from the safety issues around part exchanges, how do drivers get home if there is no part exchange? The economic costs of such deliveries are massive and, in low margin sectors like ours, are not sustainable."

Instead he, and many others, support a click-and-collect option. The customer could receive a unique waypoint to a "'safe area" where they could pick up their sanitized car and drop off their old one, without the need to socially interact.

“To be able to deliver cars safely from the dealerships at a specified time to allow for social distancing would allow any part exchange to be quarantined for days to ensure they were safe for our employees to move them later," explains Forrester.

Over in Miami, REEF Technology, the largest parking network in North America, has been turning its 5000 parking lots into local testing sites and centralized delivery logistics hubs for essential goods and services arriving in cities during COVID-19.

In the future, post COVID,  the company is trialing how it can turn these one-dimensional spaces into connected, on-demand, urban mobility hubs with micro-fulfillment centers and ghost kitchens that can be accessed through its parking app. The idea is to “bring the world to your block", helping to cut down on last-mile congestion and pollution, and offering staged delivery from “delivery buffer zones".

“At REEF, we believe a parking lot should be more than a place to store your car," said Ari Ojalvo, co-founder and CEO of REEF. “Rather, it can be a hub for the community, connecting people to the businesses and services that keep us all moving forward."

App's the way to do it

In-store retail experiences are evolving – and will continue to long after lockdown measures are eased. Until there's a vaccine social distancing will dictate how we shop, from navigating supermarkets' new one-way systems to the floor markings that demarcate our safe shopping zones. Increasingly,  location-based apps will be at the heart of modern shopping experiences.

As Will Broome, the CEO of retail technologist Ubamarket, said: “Despite the havoc that is being caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus, I believe that the crisis is bringing into focus a number of pre-existing problems with the way we shop, such as complicated and constantly changing store layouts and confusion about where products are."

Ubamarket's app is helping to alleviate the frustration of COVID-era supermarket trips with its pre-made shopping lists, in-store sat-nav and cashierless checkout. Scan, Pay, Go allows you to check stock levels from home, see how long the line-up is and then, when you're at the store, use the app to find your goods and scan and pay for them in the app.

“After coronavirus, the world won't go back to how it was," adds Broome. “People will be more hygienic and convenience-conscious, and retailers will be looking for ways to adapt to the shift in consumer behaviour and protect themselves against future shortages."

For supermarkets, retailers or start-ups looking to revolutionize smartphone-based shopping experiences, HERE Technologies' Mobile SDK allows you to build apps with indoor and outdoor maps and navigation and rich location context. Location-aware apps also allow you to geo-target your customers. That could be presenting them with relevant ads, content and promotions at the right time, in the right context, based on their location, helping your business to maximize every ad dollar.

As Gideon Rottem, the CEO of Deeyook, says: “Using precise location-based services technology that is able to show users' locations, whether they be indoor or outdoor, will facilitate faster, more accurate and more relevant advertising. Imagine how a retail store could use location-based services to better understand their customers if they could better determine their movements."

Three ways location technology is changing retail

Click & collect
Improve last-mile efficiency, avoid missed deliveries and limit person-to-person contact with click and collect during and after COVID-19. As well as allowing customers to track their order, and receive instructions for designated pick-up locations, location technology allows retailers to offer geo-targeted services that could open up valuable new revenue streams.
Location-based shopping apps
Apps that enable streamlined shopping experiences are booming, offering real value to retailers and customers. Location-aware apps allow you to discover if your items are in stock before you go to the store, and then make it easier to find them once you're there.
Click & mortar:
Retailers these days can't rely purely on bricks and mortar or digital storefronts. The successful companies will blend the virtual and the real to offer customers added value that makes their shopping experiences richer and more connected.


Shopping that's virtually real

Technology can also be used to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual shopping worlds. Amidst COVID-19, IKEA launched its first virtual store with Chinese retailing giant Alibaba. This is a big move for a business so grounded in bricks and mortar retail. Its stores boast one billion annual customers and are designed as literal sales funnels, guiding you through a maze of home furnishings that encourage you to spend more.

The key for IKEA will be to blend these physical and virtual worlds to offer its customers a better online and offline shopping experience. Last month, IKEA acquired AI and AR start-up Geomagical Labs in an effort to bring some of that in-store magic to people's digital shopping experiences.

Brian Totty, the CEO of Geomagical Labs, describes how it works: “Using AI advancements in computer vision and deep learning, Geomagical Labs has developed a system to capture portable 3D room models with everyday smartphones. With our portable models, we're excited to let IKEA customers realistically imagine and furnish their spaces, from any location."

Discover how location technology could help your business navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

Ian Dickson

Ian Dickson


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