Confessions of a Post-Pandemic Shopaholic

When the Pandemic struck early last year life as we knew it changed almost overnight. With so many unknowns, nonessential businesses obviously shuttered. Many businesses had to rethink their business operations in order to reach customers who once were freely able to shop in store. As we hopefully are looking towards the future and a post pandemic life, I have begun to reflect on some of the silver linings of the pandemic. As we have discussed in class, the digital transformation we have experienced in the past year has been overwhelming. Not only businesses, but also consumers have been pushed to adopt new technologies at a speedy rate. One of my favorite transformations has been the integration of the digital and in person shopping experience. 

As someone who loves both the in person and online shopping experience, the integration of the two has added convenience, saved time, and I believe this is the way of the future. Two companies that have, in my eyes, been very effective in catering to the varying shopping experiences consumers were looking for during the pandemic are Nordstrom and Target. Both have apps, websites, and brick and mortar stores. Both companies quickly integrated in store inventory counts to their websites and apps to allow consumers to be aware of whether the item is in store. Both also allow for same day curbside pickup for in stock items. Last Christmas as the Pandemic raged on, I was able to order last minute presents for curbside at Target and never had to enter the store. Last week, I searched high and low for a new bath mat at Target. Of course September 1 Boston move-in has led to an emptying of every Target in a 10 mile radius of Boston. The Target app is easily able to tell nearby stock counts for any item as well as which aisle it can be found on. While I think that these features were touted to decrease density across stores over the past 18 months, I imagine that these convenient features are here to stay. The ability to quickly pivot and push technology adoption led companies like Target and Nordstrom to better than expected results last year.

In a Case Study on Zara that I recently read (Information Systems:A Manager’s Guide to Harnessing Technology v8.0 John Gallaugher CHAPTER 3 Zara: Fast Fashion from Savvy Systems), I learned of the highly digital advancements that the company has implemented that power their business model. Zara is able to produce items and bring them to brick and mortar locations in a matter of 25 days which is vastly different from their competitors. Zara is able to use data to minimize cost and maximize return on investment. Zara utilizes technology and data to consistently put the “right” thing in stores at the bolsters the consumer experience by giving them what they want as soon as possible. Information sharing practices bring what the consumer is looking for directions to the store quickly, relative to competitors. Employees are empowered to share feedback they receive from customers. Real-time insights are leveraged to capture what is successful and what is failing in the store on a regular basis. Employees are armed with technology that can appropriately share this information with necessary points in the value chain to consistently make improvements. Various technologies that Zara uses to power their business model include RFID which uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects.This is used as a means of inventory control. Zara also uses visual search technology, QR codes integrated with their app, and in store inventory information on their app to create a seamless and blended shopping experience.

The coordination and integration of in-store and online experiences will be necessary to create a sustainable competitive advantage for businesses as consumers are shopping online now more than ever. Companies should focus on maximizing technology spend without overspending on extraneous additions that will not be used, will be used incorrectly, or will hinder the retail experience. There should be a focus on points in the value chain where technology can benefit the firm, the consumer, or both. Lastly, data should be leveraged to ensure that salespeople, employees, and customers are able and willing to use the technology available to make the investment worth the cost. 

8 comments

  1. As a fellow shopaholic, I, too, applaud Nordstrom’s pandemic-induced technological innovations. The integration of the digital and in-person shopping experience, as you mention, is quite admirable. As a busy person and planner, I’ve found the advanced pick-up in-store capabilities extremely helpful and stress-reducing. While I do think Nordstrom could spend some of their technology budget fixing their supply chain issues (seriously, are they ever going back to their shipment speeds pre-pandemic?!), I’ll tip my hat to the new curbside experience. I love it!

  2. Interesting read, Kayla. I’ve found myself post-pandemic to be a solely online shopper; Malls and in-person shopping no longer has the same appeal as it once had. I mean, why go to the mall when you can scroll through endless options in the comfort of your own bed? To your point, though, I’d be interested to see how clothing retailers change their competitive strategic positioning. With the rise of tech-enabled services, I wouldn’t be surprised if they derive most value from their digitized services. It would also be interesting to see how the sales of retail brick and mortar stores -in particular, mall plazas- perform compared to their online platform counterpart.

  3. While I think the transformation of businesses is clear and you make great points to point toward a trend in digital maturity in the retail industry, I think what our supply chains have done is unbelievable. The amount of technology that has been added to our supply chains, both pre and post-consumption, has surged an insane amount over the past years. An example would be using streaming analytics that goes into an ML, along with other inputs (weather, cyclical trends…etc) model to speed up or slow down production gives retail companies an edge and allows these companies to run more efficiently, especially with shopaholic customers.

  4. Interesting blog! I think this lends itself to the discussion of other ways traditional retailers have had to become nimble with their value chains – turning stores into fulfillment centers, needing to stand up online ordering and customer communication tools ASAP, and to your point, harness all of that data to get better at doing business. I think the next frontier will be for companies who have traditionally operated in the physical world to not just communicate virtually with customers, but actually understand their context based on what those customers are searching, browsing, and what other sites they visit, to tailor the right offer on the right channel, because in-store isn’t always the answer.

  5. Zara, being the leader in fast fashion due to their higher turnover rates along with an efficient supply chain model (first mover advantage) can have a greater impact by developing its e-commerce presence. Having such a large customer base experience digitalization will help Zara collect more sales data thus allowing it to compete with retailers such as Amazon, a retailer that shifted its consumer preferences to e-commerce. The pandemic has shifted the business models for many retailers and I would like to see what efforts and innovations are made by most retailers to create a hybrid shopping experience to meet everyones needs.

  6. In my opinion, Zara and Target are two perfect examples showing how companies that are (and already were before COVID-19!) digitally prepared and willing to change mastered the COVID-19 crisis. Most of these companies were the industry leaders.
    McKinsey published a fascinating article on how “the gap between retail-industry leaders and laggards has widened, with some companies dramatically increasing their market values.” According to McKinsey, the 25 largest companies (“Super 25”) accounted for 90% of market-cap gains in retail.
    Companies already lagging have to do even more to stay relevant in the following years.

    For those of you who are interested, here is the McKinsey article I was referring to: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/why-retail-outperformers-are-pulling-ahead

  7. I too think often of Target with my own shopping habit in this pandemic age. I distinctly remember at one point–might have been in the blur of holiday shopping where you always seem to have to make multiple shopping runs–I picked some stuff up curbside with my wife and I said, “I really hope this stays when the pandemic is over.” I find the UX of the app to be really solid and I like that I can specify where to put it in the car, though half the time the employees don’t seem to pay attention to that, I admit

    It’s the complete opposite of my Wal-Mart experience at holiday time when I had to go pick up a Lego Harry Potter advent calendar for my kids. There was no curbside and I had to navigate to all the way in the back of the store, avoiding mobs of individuals. I felt like I was in an episode of the Walking Dead!

    Even with Delta variant and my concerns with my children (particularly the two who are too young to be vaccinated), we still do in person Target shopping because for back to school it’s good to see in person and inventory counts change quickly and aren’t always accurate on the site. But if I have just a humdrum shopping list of cleaning supplies and kids snacks and other misc stuff, the curbside still works for me. These retailers that have that flexibility are getting even more business from me as my own shopping habits change depending on what I need to do. Home Depot is another one that has worked well for me, and that I frequent for both curbside and in-person shopping.

  8. The Arsenal Mall area has been a dangerous drive thru space for my wallet during my time in Boston, but I think Target and Old Navy (and other Gap owned businesses) have done an excellent job in this instance, even for large orders. We discussed in class the other day about Walmart’s shopping experience and the ease of the app has helped my mom integrate more healthy shopping habits, knowing she can just schedule a grocery pick up whenever she needs additional produce. Each of these has been really helpful for my personal life, but also in helping for larger event shopping for my RA staff. When you place an order online, you always have access to your receipt, never forget what you have placed an order for, and avoid the strange looks for how many snacks you are purchasing, which really enhances my personal experience.

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