The use of technology has been expanding across retail for years — however, its pervasiveness was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The integration of technology within the retail ecosystem has become the new normal. This article highlights five technological advancements that have changed the shape of health care delivery and the retail supply chain forever.
• E-commerce. The first of the top five game-changing technologies, focuses on delivery of a more personalized and seamless e-commerce experience. Retailers (and their brand partners) have had to be diligent about featuring up-to-date and accurate product information, quality digital images, and thoughtful product taxonomy and easy-to-use filtering to facilitate navigation. In back-end operations, creating personalized experiences through data collection and algorithmic assumptions has required either further technology investments or partnerships with or acquisitions of industry-leading platforms.
• Touchless retail. Prior to March 2020, cashierless checkout was still considered a novel approach to rethinking the front-end experience at retail, and many were watching as Amazon Go, 7-Eleven and others were perfecting the technology and process. Consumer expectations literally changed overnight.
Amazon doubled down on its desire to offer the Amazon Go, or “Just Walk Out” technology to other retailers. Use of facial recognition, cameras and other security measures throughout the store monitor which items shoppers take and charge them automatically when they exit. Some may be hesitant to partner with Amazon on such technology; however, others will find value in a vetted and proven solution that is literally plug and play.
From a consumer vantage point, a means of completing a sale that reduces the potential transmission of illness may become table stakes. Frictionless checkout is well on its way to becoming the new norm — and it’s going to impact all retail businesses. Stores that delay digital transformation today may be left behind.
• Curbside pickup. Retailers that have implemented “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) and/or “buy online, pick up at curb” (BOPAC) systems have made a significant technology investment. Forward-thinking independent and small chain pharmacies (and even some larger chains in certain metropolitan areas), as well as some grocers, had already been experimenting with curbside and in-store pickup as an option for time-starved customers. Now BOPIS and BOPAC have become a standard for nearly every retail channel — from furniture dealers and jewelers to hardware and electronics stores.
• Supply chain security. The reliability of product sourcing, transparency and overall security of supply chains are other areas retailers have invested in to implement technological solutions. Ensuring access to information and details regarding the chain of custody throughout the supply chain has interceded virtually every sector. In the grocery segment, produce has been one area of concerted effort; across the pharmaceutical supply chain, the government enacted Drug Supply Quality Assurance (DSQA) to address and thwart counterfeiting and illegitimate sourcing of product. Transparency has never been more meaningful.
Organizations need to have a good understanding of the security of their supply chains, and this need has only been amplified during the COVID-19 crisis. Companies such as HRG offer services to track-and-trace goods, ensuring transparency across the pharmaceutical supply chain. However, the vulnerability of product supply and off-shore sources of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) have been accentuated. Trading partners have an enormous obligation to take the necessary steps to quarantine, document and report suspect or illegitimate products to ensure that these products are not further distributed and do not reach patients. Blockchain is certainly one technology worth considering now or in the near term.
• Telemedicine. The last of the five — and more aptly characterized as a health care technology rather than retail initiative — centers on delivery and management of health from a distance. Telehealth is a very broad term encompassing a range of services such as virtual health care and remote monitoring. When first introduced nearly 15 years ago, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for telehealth — especially from the medical community. Virtual consultations were considered less effective than in-person visits, and there were security concerns. Today, however, telehealth has become the preferred health care delivery model for many patients.
One factor that advanced its acceptance was a change in regulations affecting billing during the pandemic, fueling a dramatic pivot to broader acceptance among consumers, physicians and other providers. When “safer-at-home” orders swept the nation, virtual appointments were in high demand. Advocates are now making an all-out push to cement a permanent role for telehealth. Of course, telehealth is not without limitations. Access to broadband connections, qualified care providers, and the payment process are all areas that must be addressed.
Countless other technical tools are shaping the future of retail — robotics; artificial intelligence/machine learning; payment advances; predictive analytics; and shopper identification to name a few. Technology has already been a game changer for retail; the future retail supply chain will continue to benefit from technology advancements.
Dave Wendland, vice president of strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group Inc. and member of the HRG owners group, participates in strategic planning, business development, product innovation and marketing communications activities for the company.