How Does Digital Innovation Boost Survival in Retail?

The Retail sector is used to periods of drama and uncertainty. Changes in customer demands have impacted the High Street for many years and the growth of e-commerce marketplace business models such as Amazon and eBay paved the way for online retail and shopping a long time ago.  

Yet nobody foresaw “non-essential retail” being forced to close its doors and suddenly become entirely dependent on an e-commerce strategy to keep them afloat. Technology advances have truly separated the retail survivors and those that have fallen behind or collapsed during the last 15 months. We explore where digital transformations have enabled retailers and supply chains to thrive.  

Customers Shopping via Mobile Apps 

Online shopping has progressed from shopping via websites to the explosion of user apps. The Enterprise Times reported that “App downloads increased by 36% from Q1 to Q2 2020. The numbers suggest COVID’s impact on mobile shopping extends beyond big brands like Amazon to the broader retail economy. Year-over-year, from September 2019 to September 2020, retailers’ also saw a 58% increase in in-app transactions.” Retailers looking to develop customer friendly digital solutions should be building apps allowing swift transactions and encouraging repeat purchase and driving up their customer loyalty.    

Technology Enabling Customers to Spread Payment  

Customers took a hit in 2020, as employment hit its lowest point since March 2010. With many workers facing Furlough Leave or redundancy, spending money was a huge concern for households across the country and tightened belts impacted spending levels and patterns. Apps which allow customers to spread payments without interest, such as Open Pay UK have seen substantial growth. Active customers using Openpay have increased by 45% quarter on quarter recently, now totalling 216,000. Georgina Whalley, Chief Marketing Officer at Open Pay UK said: “2020 was undoubtedly one of the toughest years for the retail industry and while 2021 shows signs of recovery many retailers have endured an equally tough start to the year. At Openpay we have seen how forward-thinking retail brands have pivoted to online with great success by escalating their tech roadmaps to make sure they could capitalise on the increase in online demand and meet consumer expectations.”  

Blockchain and Inventory Technology 

Retailers using technology which enables them to get a single source of truth on where their stock can be located have been able to marry supply and demand to serve their customers. JD Sports managed the move to e-commerce only shopping during the pandemic through successful stock locator technology and efficient home delivery. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology and other inventory tracking software has helped retailers meet customer expectations effectively and efficiently. Using blockchain within retail allows databases along the supply chain to work as one, managing stock according to demand. The benefits include reduced administration and faster payments, allowing better cash flow through the business. 

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Home Delivery Innovation & Robots 

When shops are closed, home delivery is essential. The pandemic saw the birth of partnerships such as Deliveroo buddying up with M&S and Co-Op to provide a delivery service for grocery chains with no Home Delivery option in place. Co-Op are taking their home delivery innovation a stage further, by partnering with Starship Technologies to have robots deliver goods to customers’ homes. A scheme piloted in Northampton in November 2020, customers can order via the Starship Technology app and choose from 1,000 foods with the robots then travelling up to three miles to deliver. 

Weathering the pandemic storm will undoubtedly be the hardest challenge for the retail sector in a generation. The re-opening of non-essential retail in April 2021 is only part of the picture of forward survival. Those able to take adapt and embrace digital transformation have prospered and technological innovation will inevitably gather pace and accelerate change in the sector for the future with customers’ habits and needs having changed because of the pandemic’s impact on the sector.   

If you need help to get your digital transformation journey started contact  


Rise of the robots as Co-op and Starship roll-out autonomous delivery expansion – Co-op (

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