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How Retail Companies Are Adapting to Improve Profitability ⁠⁠ While many continue to struggle, impressively, a select few are still seeing improved revenues.

By Tom Popomaronis

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Maica | Getty Images

From grocers to clothing stores and big-box retailers, there have been dramatic changes to the retail experience over the past several months. Retail sales plunged an astounding 16.4 percent in April — the worst-ever month-over-month drop since recording began.

Some categories, including furniture, electronics and clothing, saw sales drop by as much as 58 to 78 percent. Many companies have begun filing for bankruptcy as a result.

But the news hasn't all been bad. Plenty of retailers have accelerated adaptations that were already underway to meet the needs of an increasingly digital society. Regardless of your product category, taking these steps to adapt will prove essential for increasing profitability both now and in the future.

Increasing investments in ecommerce

Ecommerce has become increasingly crucial for many retailers over the last few years, and sales results during the economic shutdown illustrate just how important a sector this will continue to be. For example, for the month of April, Target reported a whopping 275 percent increase in digital sales, offsetting a decline in in-store spending. Walmart similarly noted a major increase in esales that helped it avoid a decline in overall revenue.

While other big brands have struggled, those with a strong ecommerce presence are emerging in an even stronger position. Smaller retailers that invest in ecommerce are seeing similar results.

In a case study, Self Point, an AI platform that helps grocers set up ecommerce operations, reports, "Since the start of the [shutdown], we've been delivering 100 demos per month, and we've onboarded 23 groceries per month. Perhaps even more telling is the increase in business that merchants using our ecommerce platform are experiencing. Since March 2020, Self Point-powered online groceries have seen 286 percent year-over-year growth in transaction volume."

For mom-and-pop retailers and larger enterprises alike, a simple ecommerce platform will improve profitability by giving customers more options to make a purchase. This is especially true for stores with many customers who fall into higher-risk categories. Such individuals will likely feel more comfortable buying from home even as restrictions are lifted.

Related: The Impact of COVID-19 On the Fashion Design Industry

Streamlining the digital experience

There is no denying that the digital experience doesn't always fully compare to shopping in person. This is especially true of categories like clothing. Customers can be reluctant to buy clothing online because they are unsure of the fit or the feel of the fabric.

New tech tools are removing this persistent ecommerce barrier. For example, Shopify has introduced 3D modeling and augmented-reality features to its stores, making it easier for customers to have an experience that more closely resembles shopping in-store.

Preliminary results show that this can make a significant difference for retailers who use these features for relevant products. In a case study, Shopify's Jon Wade notes, "Rebecca Minkoff has been using 3D models on their product pages since fall of last year. They found that visitors who interacted with a 3D model were 44 percent more likely to add a product to their cart and 27 percent more likely to place an order than visitors who didn't. And when visitors viewed a product in AR, they became 65 percent more likely to make a purchase."

By providing more engaging shopping options, retailers are overcoming many of the common objections customers have to buying certain items online.

Reorganizing store layouts and services

Even as digital is becoming increasingly important, retailers cannot overlook ways they can adapt their in-store experience to better serve their customers. This is especially true of smaller retailers who may not have the capacity for delivery. Many small grocers, for example, may only be able to offer curbside delivery or in-store pickup.

People who visit retail stores are often wanting to take shorter trips to minimize their potential exposure to others. As the Washington Post reports, clothing retailers like American Eagle have made additional investments in curbside pickup and even changed the way they fold clothing so that customers can browse faster without getting "hands-on" with the products.

Other retailers are replacing impulse buy items with bigger-ticket displays in an effort to make it easier for customers to purchase more profitable products. Many are placing limits on how many people are allowed in their store at a time or adjusting their layout to promote social distancing. As part of these efforts, some areas may need to be repurposed entirely so there is space for customers who placed an order ahead of time to pick it up.

One way to accomplish this is by putting higher-demand items near the front of the store. This helps customers find everything they are looking for quickly so they spend less time browsing. During times when capacity is limited, this change can be vital for getting more people in and out of the store, so retailers can get more foot traffic and achieve higher sales totals.

Related: How Your Small Business Can Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic

While current restrictions affecting retailers won't be around forever, there is no denying a lasting change on customer behaviors and the way we do business. Retailers who are proactive in adapting for this future will be better able to handle what lies ahead in a way that makes them more profitable.

Tom Popomaronis

Executive Vice President of Innovation at Massive Alliance

Tom Popomaronis is executive vice president of innovation at Massive Alliance, a global agency that provides executive-reputation management and leadership-branding services.

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