Pandemic will only accelerate growth of on-demand economy: Deep Agarwal, Zebra

From the statistics, it is quite apparent that online shopping is a trend that is here to stay, while the pandemic only serves to accelerate this trend.

The Covid-19 situation has seen to a growing demand and need for click-and-collect orders and contactless payments. According to Zebra Technologies, the brick-and-mortar retailers now need to introduce the right technology like mPOS.

Here, Deep Agarwal, Regional Sales Director – Indian Sub-Continent, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific, tells us more. Excerpts from an interview:

DQ: How will there be a boost for contactless payments?

Deep Agarwal: According to Capgemini, over 82% of Indian consumers prefer touchless interaction during the pandemic, while approximately 90% of them are comfortable using their mobile phones for payments, especially for in-store purchases. Brick-and-mortar retailers are already seeing a large uptake in the use of card and contactless payments, which reduces interpersonal contact.

Many retailers are deploying mobile point of sale (mPOS) solutions that comprises a handheld mobile device with various payment processing tools, which enables retailers to scan items, process payments and print receipts anywhere.

Here are some ways, whereby, mPOS solutions can be deployed:

As clickandcollect orders increase, more retailers may introduce curbside pickup for online grocery orders to cope with the rising demand. Once received, they can quickly pick ordersusing data-rich images and pass up items that they know are out-of-stock. Subsequently, they can pack merchandise and print receipts prior to the customers’ arrival to expedite order fulfilment.

Store associates will be notified of customer arrivals by sending real-time alerts to their mobile devices, and they can scan customer coupons or take additional payment and print receipts while the customer remains in the safety of their vehicle. The coronavirus pandemic is making curbside pickup much more valuable to customers, in US alone the number of orders placed online and picked up at bricks-and-mortar stores by customers surged 208% between April 1 and April 20 compared with a year ago, according to data pulled from Adobe Analytics.

Alternatively, in-store shoppers will prefer shorter checkout lines and payment flexibility where possible, which can be made possible via self-checkout solutions. According to the APAC Shopper Study 2020, self-checkout is one of the technologies that retailers are using to reshape the front-of-store experience. They are also adopting self and mobile checkout in more significant numbers. With up to 87% of the surveyed respondents agreeing that self-checkout improves the shopping experience, while 81% shared that they already see a return on their investment in self-checkout technology.

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, brick-and-mortar retailers were already embarking on a gradual digital transformation to compete against e-commerce operations prior to Covid-19. As such, the pandemic will only serve to accelerate the growth of the on-demand economy through increased online shopping due to stay-home measures and social distancing.

Therefore, to stay competitive, the only way forward is for brick-and-mortar retailers to introduce the right technology like mPOS, that can help them achieve more flexibility, work efficiency, and provide a greater shopping experience.  

DQ: How can an efficient retail inventory help in the future?

Deep Agarwal: Thanks to the on-demand economy, shoppers today are driven by an insatiable demand for 24/7 product search and purchase and a ‘I want it now’ mentality, because they can literally shop from anywhere and anytime. In view of stay-home measures and social distancing, the pandemic will only accelerate this growing trend.

To fulfil this shopping desire and the high expectations of today’s omnichannel shoppers, both online and brick-and-mortar stores need an efficient inventory system that can provide an accurate, real-time visibility of their stock.

This is especially relevant for brick-and-mortar stores. The top reason shoppers visit a physical store is to experience a product because it would be safe to assume that shoppers have already researched about the products online before visiting the brick and mortar stores.

Therefore, these walk-in shoppers will expect the store associates to have as much information asthem, if not more. According to the APAC Shopper Study 2020, up to 59% of surveyed customers prefer sales associates to find the latest information for them, and the main reason for them leaving a store without a purchase is because of out of stocks.

By knowing what is available, where it is, and exactly how much it costs, this will reduce the chances of retailers losing the shopper to a competitor who has that information readily on hand.


Deep Agarwal, Regional Sales Director – Indian Sub-Continent, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

DQ: How is Zebra helping enterprises develop Smart warehouses for Business Continuity?

Deep Agarwal: Warehousing, distribution and fulfilment operations are undergoing a modern-day makeover as they transform to meet the growing demands of the world’s instant gratification, on-demand economy.  Faced with an evolving omnichannel landscape, ever-increasing volumes, faster delivery requirements and a global shortage of workers, industry leaders must modernise to keep pace.

While achieving flawless fulfilment continues to be a top priority for warehouse operators, increasing customer demands have forced them to focus far more on the bottom line. As a result, warehouseoperators need to perform ‘smarter’ by operating as efficiently as possible, reducing error rates, and adhering to best practice.

While the pandemic has stressed few industries, the expectations of customers on receiving few products and services is higher than ever. The warehouses in these times must work harder to meet the consumer demands. Therefore, warehouses are now prompting warehouse operators to find ways to help their front-line workers to achieve greater productivity and efficiency at work.

As such, we expect warehouse operators to recognize the importance to augment their front-line staff with the right technology to increase their efficiency and productivity to cope with the situation and beyond. By providing them with tools that have a relatively low learning curve, their front-line staff will be able to shorten the onboarding time required and enable them to start using the devices effectively at work sooner.

A good example would be to equip them with Android-powered mobile devices. Besides being a useful tool that can provide them with real-time information that is needed to perform their jobs, the familiar Android user-interface enables warehouse staff to get used to the devices quickly, which greatly reduces the training time which would have been required otherwise. This allows them to perform at an optimal level much quicker. According to IDC, there are about 450 million smartphone users in India and most of them are familiar with the Android OS.

Zebra continues to work closely with our channel partners to provide industry-tailored solutions to enterprises to cater to their varying needs, with the primary focus of helping them overcome their business challenges.

DQ: Do you see e-commerce to experience a renaissance?

Deep Agarwal: According to the APAC Shopper Study 2020, nearly 58% of surveyed shoppers prefer to shop with online retailers that also have brick and mortar locations, while up to 48% of shoppers prefer to make purchases via mobile devices and smartphones.

From the statistics, it is quite apparent that online shopping is a trend that is here to stay, while the pandemic only serves to accelerate this trend. Further, shoppers are bringing their expectations built online into brick-and-mortar stores with them. Armed with smartphones, shoppers expect store associates to have all the information they need on hand; what products are available, where are the products located, and exactly how much they cost.

Failing which, shoppers will not hesitate to walk out of the store and shop online. In fact, up to 86% of surveyed millennial shoppers and more than half (56%) of Gen X shoppers indicated they shopped in a store and left without a purchase only to end up buying the item online.

Yet, store associates are not always equipped with the latest technology to ease and enrich the in-storeexperience. In fact, up to 54% of shoppers felt they had better access to information than the store associates.

That said, while shoppers increasingly expect and rely on in store technology, they still want human interaction. Therefore, retail technology should strive to provide a friction-free shopping experience, with technology that improve self-service for customers and empower store associates to deliver a better shopping experience.

DQ: How will logistics platforms evolve in the future? What is Zebra doing to help?

Deep Agarwal: Meeting the needs of the on-demand economy has been very challenging for retailers especially during this current pandemic. The ongoing increase in demand for essential goods, and continued restrictions on many products are creating a disparity between demand and supply.

While the supply chain in India is used to being prepared for consumption peaks during the festive season from September to December every year, the current situation creates significant challenges.

To overcome these challenges, companies will have to rapidly adopt extraordinary measures to ensure timely delivery of essential products to stores and subsequently the customers. Technology-led supply chain models will need to be agile and flexible to emerge as a key defining factor that reduces the current demand and supply gap in India.

To drive more productivity from their processes, warehouse operators are likely to use different technologies such as mobile devices, augmented reality (AR) apps, head-mounted displays and other wearables (like smart glasses) that can quickly guide them directly to confirmed item locations.

Android-based mobile computers give workers the intelligence needed to speed through tasks accurately, which is crucial in today’s fast-moving warehousing environment. Devices are typically used 24/7/365 by shift workers in fast-paced warehouses where ‘seconds matter’.
Yet, the use of mobile devices reaches far beyond just scanning, with growing focus on implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). In India, it is expected that AI-led transformation of the supply chain industry will double its valuation in the next two years. Currently, about 30% to 40% of Indian businesses are leveraging AI-enabled tech solutions in their supply chain activities while others still use traditional, linear models. These technologies as of now are relegated to smaller use-cases, most widely used on mobile computers and tablets.
Just like how driverless cars and aerial delivery drones are the cutting-edge technology of the world, smart glasses would be the equivalent in the world of warehouses. By using smart glasses, workers can enjoy a hands-free experience while navigating warehouses, and managing stock levels. With their hands free, they can then physically pick and collect the items that they need.

Once the products are picked, sorted and packed at the warehouse, the next challenge is to facilitate customer delivery or collection. Increasingly, we see click and collect as a preferred fulfilment method for shoppers. Mobile technologies that enable drive up and mobile pick up are critical in ensuring that customers can get the things they want and limit their personal contact at the same time.

By deploying the right solutions at the edge of the enterprise,warehouse workers can increase their efficiency and improve operational workflows during these unprecedented times of challenges.

As a pioneer in helping the frontline of businesses to capture their edge for more than 50 years, Zebra continues to work closely with our channel partners to come up with industry-tailored solutions that cater to the varying needs of businesses.  

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