Since March 2020, retailers have made Herculean efforts to meet the moment of the COVID-19 crisis, implementing new tools and processes to help customers stay safe and still get what they need, when they need it.

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Even as we signs that the pandemic is beginning to wind down, retailers will need to continue to innovate and build on these systems that customers have come to expect. Many customers have spent the past year largely avoiding physical stores, so the retailers that can make shoppers feel welcome and safe — in short, those that make customers feel like they want to come back even if they don’t strictly need to — will be the ones to succeed in the future. Here are several ways they can achieve this objective.

Touchless Payments

Even before the pandemic, a growing number of customers expected retailers to accept contactless payments through payment-enabled mobile or wearable devices. Then, in 2020, touchless payments became a preferred transaction form for many customers, for obvious health and safety reasons. Retailers that haven’t already adopted payment terminals capable of accepting contactless payments should make them a top priority.

Contactless Checkout

Contactless checkout goes far beyond contactless payment terminals. Many retailers have deployed — and customers have come to expect — options such as pickup lockers, self-checkout, curbside pickup, and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS). Many retailers are prioritizing giving shoppers as many options as possible to meet their needs. Whatever solution a store rolls out, it’s important to get it right. Near the beginning of the pandemic, I arranged to pick up some clothes at a mall, and I ended up sitting in the parking lot for so long that it would have been easier for me to just go in the store and get what I needed. A few weeks later, I tried curbside pickup at another retailer, and the transaction was a breeze. Guess which one is more likely to get my business in the future.

Mobile Devices and Inventory Solutions

Physical stores already faced stiff competition from online retailers before the pandemic, and many customers now have hardened habits of buying online when they need something. To get customers to continue to shop in stores, retailers must optimize the customer experience. Mobility can play a huge role in how companies achieve this. Putting mobile devices in the hands of store associates leads to better customer experiences. It gives associates the ability to provide product information and availability as well as access to endless aisle and mobile point-of-sale capabilities without ever leaving a customer’s side.

Last-Mile Delivery

Again, many shoppers are now accustomed to thinking of a need, clicking one or two buttons on a laptop or mobile device and then getting the item delivered within a day or two. To compete with this level of convenience, traditional retailers must invest in ship-from-store and other last-mile delivery solutions. Some companies have even turned darkened storefronts into distribution hubs, recognizing that superior delivery logistics can sometimes trump the need to have more physical locations.

These solutions are outside the wheelhouse of many retailers. Consequently, they often turn to partners such as CDW for help. Through a combination of our service offerings and logistical capabilities, over the past year we’ve helped retailers with everything from optimizing operations to digitizing processes and implementing curbside pickup solutions.

Retailers face a number of new challenges. It’s important to remember that brands can use technology to get closer to their customers, and those that create experiences that make their customers want to come back to the store will thrive.