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I would say that 2020 can easily be argued as the year that was against retail. And for many struggling through the past few months, trust me when I say that I truly feel your pain, your anxiety, and your trepidation for the uncertain months to come. But with all of the bad that has fallen on the world of retail in the early part of this year, some good has come out of the instability.

For many retailers, the concept of moving towards a more digitally-oriented retail model—one focused on customer data as a means to create better customer experience—was illusive at best. Whether the reasons are just too much tech speak and not enough tangible evidence to move forward, budget concerns, customer reluctance, or just plain not liking change, there always seemed to be an obstacle.

However, in March of this year a global emergency thrust retail into a world that was perhaps not planned for, not prepared for, and certainly not foreseen until the very last minute. That said, retailers of all types rose to the occasion. And yes, there were pitfalls and stumbles, but in the end retailers survived and better yet many even thrived—all because they suddenly embraced a new way of connecting with customers.

As we look back over the last three months, the sequence of events that brought about a new era of retail engagement happened at a pace that should not just be celebrated, but go down in history as one of the fastest technological evolutions the world has even seen.

As governments suddenly forced many retailers to shut down their stores, suddenly a new paradigm had to be developed in real time. We witnessed the advent of retail video chat sessions, massive upticks in social media engagement and email, not to forget enhanced eCommerce and website practices, and more. And of course, the impetus for all of this: the immediate need for contactless shopping to keep customers safe.

Now that the second phase of economic reopening is upon us, the lessons learned from the past few months are clear: contactless shopping is what propelled retail firmly into the twenty-first century and well into the age of data.

From all of the aforementioned practices—emails, eCommerce, and even phone calls—personalized data was being gathered at all times. What people were shopping for was being written out in plain black ink, so to speak, for all to see, and for all to action going forward. Whether food orders, clothing, home goods, to any and all accessories, contactless shopping delivered never before seen insights into the entirety of the sales experience.

So what now? First, contactless shopping should never go away. It’s a part of how people now shop regardless of the passing pandemic, or any other thing thrown our way. Just like Amazon impacted retail, so has contactless shopping in that new habits have been formed, new data has been created, and a new future based on all of this is ripe for the picking.

Now, retailers must once again evolve quickly. The measures taken so far in 2020 is just the beginning. Building on the new shopping habits, paired with people now coming back into the store for a more traditional experience has laid the groundwork for an exponential rise in sales and customer engagement. The logical next step is yet another incremental investment in technology to merge the pre-pandemic, pandemic, and post-pandemic shopping habits.

As people emerge from their shelters, greeting them as they return with personal insights will solidify loyalty like never before. If you were “their store” during these past few months, you have them for life as long as you follow through with the same, if not even better service in-person.

For so long we have heard terms like customer engagement, omnichannel, and so on—all connected to experiences online, in-app, and in-store. But with the lack of connection of both store and customer, that technology was a tough pill to swallow. But now, as people have embraced new technology and engagement as a way to fulfil their needs, and retailers have been more than happy to oblige, the new world of retail has a bright future. And all it takes is the desire to succeed.

We all owe a thanks to contactless shopping and what lies ahead.

Andrew Armstrong

Andrew Armstrong

Chief Customer Officer

Andrew Armstrong is the Chief Customer Officer at omNovos – working globally with customers to design world-class customer engagement programs. He’s a prolific writer and speaker on topics including customer loyalty, personalization, and retail marketing technologies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter - his open approach to all topics usually leads to a fun discussion and a few laughs.