Today’s shopping trip is not the same trip it was just six months ago. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about visiting the local grocery store, a shopping centre or your favourite independent bookstore, the general look and feel of the trip has changed. It’s become altered. Or, to borrow a buzzword most often used to describe sudden change within the industry, much about the physical retail experience has been disrupted. Only this time, the disruption has not come as the result of a new channel through which to sell product or the introduction of an alternate method of payment. And its impact, as evidenced by multiple store closures throughout the country, has been profound and could prove to linger longer than we’d all prefer.
The disruption this time around is, of course, that caused by the implications surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic. The virus will forever be linked to the year 2020 and remembered for a lifetime by those unfortunate enough to have lived through it. It’s forced the shutdown of physical spaces the world over, prohibited the gathering of crowds, and has forced us all to live and interact with one another differently. No matter how you look at our current situation, the change we’ve all been subjected to has been immense. Despite all of this, however, as communities and businesses continue to open and adapt to a new normal, the need in people to enjoy tactile experiences, to satisfy their appetites as social creatures, persists. The only question for retailers going forward is: how safe and comfortable can they make their in-store experience for visitors? Not surprisingly, a good portion of the answer could lie in the promise of artificial intelligence technology.