As countries ease their way along the COVID-19 recovery curve, many businesses, including telco operators, are preparing to reopen stores. But with government leaders, the medical community, and public sentiment varying in terms of what constitutes safe and responsible behavior, many organizations are wondering if and when shoppers will venture out – and what they can do to create a safe and convenient experience when they do.
A new study from the Capgemini Research Institute indicates that reassurance is one key element of consumers’ willingness to return to the store. In the midst of this crisis, shoppers are placing a premium on health and safety, requiring retailers to ensure that stores are clean, orderly, and properly configured. While many of these issues have always been top of mind for telco organizations, brands are now faced with the added responsibility of communicating the company’s ongoing commitment to safety and the new proactive measures they are taking in response to COVID-19.
The store should no longer be considered a stand-alone channel. By extension, its reopening is not an isolated event. Our research underscores the need to blend physical and digital channels in order to harness the convenience and efficiency of the online world with the personalization and interaction of retail locations.
Winning the 2020 commercial battle with a convenient and effective cross-channel experience
With the advent of COVID-19, many retailers saw their customer base shrink by more than half virtually overnight. By the end of the year, physical retail flows are expected to remain 30 percent lower than before the crisis. For telco operators, this finding is especially important given their heavy reliance on stores as a sales channel. Compounding matters, even when physical locations are able to reopen, many countries or states will have strict rules about the number of customers allowed to be in the store, protective equipment that must be worn, and many other factors that may deter shoppers from visiting or just make the experience cumbersome when they do.
Given these circumstances, telcos must begin to use digital capabilities to adapt the in-store experience to make shopping comfortable, convenient, and efficient. For example, operators can:
- Leverage digital applications to make in-store appointments
- Enable virtual queues through a mobile app or other alert system to reduce wait times and lines at stores
- Allow shoppers to virtually check stock and/or receive notifications on the availability of desired devices or equipment
- Enable or promote click-and-collect services and create a dedicated fast lane or self-service lockers for pick-up.
These digital/physical double plays can be reinforced by additional in-store efforts, such as: reconfiguring the store to create more floor space and minimize surface areas; posting signs and other guides to remind people of social distancing requirements; securing products or boxes out of shoppers’ reach to prevent possible contamination; offering complimentary hand sanitizer or masks; encouraging or requiring digital payments; or dedicating store hours within the shop for high-risk groups, such as senior citizens or the immuno-compromised.
It is important to note that communicating the steps retailers are taking in response to this public health emergency is often as important as the measures themselves. Stores must be proactive in informing shoppers about their efforts to support this new way of working. Finally, they may need to reinforce these rules with customers, reminding shoppers of their collective responsibility for mindful, responsible behavior in the store.
Long-term recovery: Reimaging the role of the store in a post-COVID world
For telco operators, customers visit a retail location for one of two main reasons: to discover new products and services; or to answer questions they have about complex issues. Both of these scenarios typically require significant human interaction, with a staff member either demoing a product or sharing detailed information about features, functions, price, or capabilities.
The current health emergency has prompted some organizations to reimagine the very basis of human interaction, shifting from in-person, one-on-one communication to digital conversations or group-based learning experiences. With that in mind, telco operators must begin to consider how they can increase interactivity even while serving customers remotely. For example, Norwegian and Austrian operators have been serving customers via phone and video chat over the past two months. Animated stores may be another way to offer high-touch service through digital channels.
Further, organizations can begin to reshape customer perceptions and behaviors about stores, recasting them not as the starting point of the customer journey but as the end. One of the most dramatic examples of this concept can be found in China with Starbucks. While the company’s cafes are considered popular places to relax, connect or even work in many countries, in much of Asia, most Starbucks storefronts have become pick-up hubs. Online ordering and mobile payments are required or encouraged and customers spend almost no time in the store.
This shift reinforces the key motive for retail purchasing, which is immediate availability. To that end, express delivery, once thought of as a service exclusive to the food industry, is now being used in a variety of industries, as shoppers, particularly those in China, are becoming increasingly comfortable with app-based ordering and home/office delivery of all kinds of purchases – from groceries to non-prescription medicines. Telcos can consider this model as a next-phase of retail, offering quick delivery within cities or other designated areas for devices or repairs, especially when coupled with a full-digital subscription capability. In North America, some operators have begun to trial this service with free express delivery and device support setup. In Europe, Swisscom offers express delivery in selected urban areas.
While this overall model may require adaptation to the telco sector, it offers some helpful guidance on how to reshape the role of the store and encourage consumers to turn to complementary channels for purchase and service. Ultimately, the amount of telecom shops in the future will depend on the new store success and the level of digital commerce adoption.
For more information about how telco organizations can create and deliver innovative digital experiences, at speed and scale, please view our latest offer, Inventive Telecoms.
From theory to practice: How Telcos can win the 2020 commercial battle
For telcos, responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19 requires a wide range of considerations – from retail best practices to digital experience design to marketing and communication efforts. Complicating matters is the urgency with which companies need to act, creating an effective cross-channel solution in a matter of weeks if not days. The stakes are high for operators, with those organizations that can quickly adapt likely taking the lead in the 2020 commercial battle-ground that may be hard for others to regain in the years to come.
For telco organizations operating at this crucial juncture, Capgemini Invent offers the cross-sector experience and expertise to help manage this complex crisis. For more information, please contact Philippe Blanc, Vice-President, Telecom Media Technology at Capgemini Invent.
This blog is Part 2 of a two-part blog series. Read Part 1 here: Telcos’ digital imperative
Vice President, Telecom Media Technology