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Omnichannel a ‘Crucial Lifeline’ for Post-Pandemic Retail

The Covid crisis has pushed more retailers online than ever before. And according to point-of-sale solutions company Lightspeed, digitization is the only path forward.

The Montreal-based software provider—which serves more than 100,000 customers in over 100 countries—has seen its network thrive as it brings its business to the web. “We’ve seen the industry contract, overall, globally—growth is obviously slowed,” the company’s founder and CEO, Dax Dasilva, said at NRF’s virtual Retail Big Show event Wednesday. But Lightspeed’s merchants have seen total sales grow by nearly 20 percent, he said, thanks to widespread technology adoption.

“What we’ve seen is that those merchants that had lit up more of their digital channels were able to recover faster,” he added. “They outperformed the industry by recovering more than 20 times faster than their peers that may not have had a digital commerce platform.”

Lightspeed offers a digitized, cloud-based point-of-sale for both in-store and e-commerce, Dasilva said, allowing brands and retailers to transact virtually and in person. That duality has become a must in the modern retail world. “We’ve been preaching omnichannel for more than five years,” he added, “and what used to be a nice-to-have ambition for many of these businesses became a crucial lifeline” during the pandemic.

The retail reopening process has been varied across the globe, with certain markets opening up for business more quickly than others. Many, like the U.S., have seen retail restrictions partially lifted over the summer and then put in place again when the second wave of the virus hit during the fall months.

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“The common thread that we see is that the technology adoption is a big part of what makes these businesses resilient,” Dasilva said, as it allows them to shift their businesses online when doing business physically isn’t an option. “They’re going to use every tool in their toolbox to make sure they’re still able to transact.”

As populations achieve herd immunity through vaccinations and retail begins to recover more broadly and permanently, Dasilva believes that some changes in consumer behavior and expectations are here to stay.

The physical retail space is “going to need to react to the reality that’s been created by the pandemic,” he said. Retailers will likely become more reliant on technological advancements like contactless payment, which shoppers have come to rely on for both safety and convenience, going forward. Omnichannel services like curbside and in-store pickup, which were adopted as pandemic workarounds, will likely remain important to consumers who have become used to having more choices. These experiences “will be part of the legacy of of what’s happened this past year,” he said.

“With all these different sales channels, what is on the plate of a small business owner today is far, far different from 20 years ago,” Dasilva said.

“From the way that we shop to the way that we dine, the way the consumer’s behavior has changed has been unprecedented,” he added. Retailers “have to be great in store, they have to be great online, they have to be great on social, and they have to have the right product for the right customer at the right moment. It’s a lot to juggle.”

Dasilva believes enabling agility is a large part of addressing those challenges. Lightspeed announced the launch of its suppliers network last week, which will connect merchants with their brand partners for a “fully integrated stock ordering solution” that connects directly with their POS system.

“Suppliers are going to get real-time sales data so that they can better offer, manufacturer and procure the right products,” he said, while merchants will have centralized access to catalogs, product specs and imagery that will enable them to easily set up their e-commerce selling operations.

As the acceleration of omnichannel continues, Dasilva said, the program will allow for more data sharing between suppliers and retailers about product performance, allowing merchants to optimize their assortments by channel and reorder quickly through the platform.

“We think that that data should benefit them,” he said. “They should have knowledge about what products they should be stocking and where they should be putting that capital” based on analytics, he said. “I think it just changes the game in terms of the competitiveness of those merchants, and ultimately the consumer gets the product they were looking for.”