The impact of Covid-19 has been profound and caused many industry sectors to rethink significant aspects of their business models. This has probably been felt as strongly in retail and associated logistics as any other sector.
 
The consequences and repercussions of the lockdowns have been debated at great length, particularly regarding which changes to customer buying behaviour will be temporary and which are likely to be a more permanent shift in their purchasing habits.
 
What is clear is that the waves of imposed restrictions have accelerated the rate of traction of new behaviour patterns to find a more permanent footing and so become ‘the new normal’.
The rapid growth of on-line shopping has seen a proliferation of websites being updated to support this more effectively. However, while these websites can support the activity and process of on-line selection and purchasing, they are not necessarily able to provide many of the functions now considered to be crucial to the smooth introduction of an effective on-line shopping experience. Nor are they able to support the need for a cross-channel retail strategy, particularly as the effects of Covid-19 start to recede, and the high street and malls return as a still vital part of retail.
 
How apps are modernising Retail
 
This is where the introduction of mobile phone, tablet and desktop computer apps, often working in combination with a website, are becoming increasingly valuable.
 
Apps not only can meet the demands of on-line commerce but address the critical issue of customer loyalty. Apps encourage customers to return to a chosen supplier instead of them searching other websites where they may select a competitor. Loyalty is a major factor in the high street and shopping malls but is often being lost in the on-line world.
 
The analogy often cited is that “Accessing an app is like entering a shop to browse and purchase an item, whereas choosing from a multiple number of websites is like standing in the middle of a market with multiple vendors all trying to sell you the same item.”
 
Now, in addition to supporting a multi-channel retail experience for customers, apps can be designed to meet the requirements of in-store retail, warehousing, logistics, management and operations staff. Importantly, they can be designed to operate with sophisticated EPOS and EFTPOS operations within the app, or as a route to and integrated with a company’s website.
 
There are other advantages for retailers who have an app. These include increased security, location-based communication with your customers, integrated use of phone/IT technology (GPS, Bluetooth), information retention and display, the personalisation of the shopping experience and a far higher conversion to purchase rate than websites. It is clear to see why retail apps are fast becoming a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.
 
Also, apps which extend the online presence of a retailer, are not just for the larger stores and suppliers. New no-code/low-code app development platforms are making apps accessible for all retail outlets, no matter the size and their level of experience with technology.
 
Organisations of all levels, from start-ups to the largest multi-nationals, can now easily and design their own apps with the design, feel and brand placement they require.
The new generation of low-code platforms are making what was a previously challenging and expensive option of creating and deploying an app, very affordable, accessible, and viable for all retailers.
Using low code technology, retailers can now design and deploy affordable apps that specifically meet their needs and the needs of their customers, without having to employ specialist app developers to do it and instead, using their existing staff.
 
The technology offers easy and familiar functionality including point and click, drag and drop and options to select the development process, supported by an extensive array of functional routines and widgets, that anyone can use.
 
The results are often sophisticated, fully functioning apps that can run on and are optimised for any device and operating system (phones, tablets, watches, and televisions using IOS, Android and Windows as well as Windows, Linux, and Apple desktops). They are even able to fully integrate with the wide array of databases (SQL, Oracle, DB2, MultiValue etc.) that retailers are already using and support multiple types of databases within the same app.
 
Many retailers have been able to create highly effective apps without any custom programming at all. For those retailers with more technical experience, modern platforms do not limit any further customization, future enhancements, and developments so users can add to their app design, and re-use and incorporate routines and code they may already have.
The new generation of no-code/low-code platforms allow the user to generate apps as web, hybrid or native apps, with the ability to deliver fully structured source code (generally Visual Studio) for easy access and onward development, as well as providing the capacity to include custom code or 3rd party components as required.
 
These platforms open entirely new possibilities for retailers, allowing them to deploy an app that is right for them and their customers, without a lengthy and costly development process.
The right choice of platform will also now include full retail support, making available multiple product displays and purchase experiences, customer information retention, shopping baskets and multiple payment and delivery options. In fact, the complete store within an app!
Author:
 
Malcolm Carroll, Director, BlueFinity

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