Retail resilience in the face of new economic realities

How contactless smart locker technology helps retailers succeed and deliver unexpected customer experiences.

It’s been a tough time for retailers lately. The global pandemic, a logjammed supply chain and the “Great Resignation” have disrupted business, transformed the economy, and changed consumer behavior in ways that are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. 

While many retailers have benefitted from the huge explosion of ecommerce, exceptional growth has been accompanied by skyrocketing shipping rates. Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar stores face persistent staffing shortages. Many of the hourly employees who were laid off during the shutdown have re-evaluated their options, and stores are having a difficult time finding and retaining replacements.

Rapidly evolving consumer preferences and behaviors present yet another challenge. Fast, free delivery and simple returns are “must haves” in today’s highly competitive retail landscape. What’s more, consumer expectations continue to rise: nearly half of online buyers now expect delivery in two days , and 82 percent are unwilling to pay additional fees for expedited delivery or returns.

It’s not all doom and gloom.

Change and disruption are also creating opportunities to re-imagine retail in cost-efficient, customer-pleasing ways. Innovative retailers are investing in technology to improve the customer experience and reduce costs. Despite a challenging retail environment, physical store openings outnumbered closings by two to one in 2021.  Many are discovering that smart locker technology can provide the flexibility they need to surmount multiple challenges while satisfying customer expectations.

Here are just a few of the many ways that smart lockers are helping retailers succeed.

Get phygital.

Blending online and offline shopping experiences creates the best of both worlds for both shoppers and retailers. Expanding the customer’s choices by empowering them to choose when and where to shop, select the delivery model they prefer, and decide how to handle returns helps ensure satisfaction and build loyalty. Retailers that offer options for BOPIL (Buy Online, Pickup In Locker) and same day delivery also enjoy the added benefit of reduced shipping costs.

Put the “wow factor” to work.

The pandemic has made consumers eager for in-person shopping experiences. Retailers can make the return to bricks and mortar stores more meaningful and memorable by adding a new level of value and convenience to the experience. Sweetening the deal with services and amenities that customers don’t expect but value and will come to rely on is a win-win proposition. For example, creating a self-service shipping center not only differentiates your brand from the competition. It can also drive more foot traffic and generate radiant sales.

Innovative retailers are also using their brick-and-mortar stores as local shipping hubs, with smart lockers enabling fast, secure self-service pickup. Even smaller retailers can compete with the giants by offering impatient consumers the option of same-day delivery. Customer orders are placed in smart lockers and retrieved by a last-mile delivery service.

Meet consumer expectations, while minimizing shipping costs.

Today’s online consumers want low cost, choice and convenience; in fact, one in five online shoppers will avoid retailers that do not offer BOPIS as an option.  But they also don’t want to waste time standing in line. Smart lockers check all the boxes, making it easy for retailers to deliver the fast, frictionless experience that customers demand.

Consumers are also likely to abandon online shopping carts due to high shipping costs and slow delivery.  But the recent spike in shipping rates and other carrier restrictions make it difficult for retailers to provide free shipping at the same thresholds as in years past. Retailers that offer the option of BOPIL can recover sales while saving on shipping.

Ease the staffing crunch.

With smart locker technology, retailers can provide the service and convenience customers want without increasing staffing levels. Because smart lockers enable unattended, self-service pickup, retailers can use them to extend service hours without the need to hire additional staff or extend store hours.

To make the best use of associates’ time and avoid burnout, it makes sense to streamline workflows wherever possible. The customer service desk is a good place to start, because fulfillment of BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store) orders can be a labor-intensive process. The associate must verify the customer’s ID, obtain the order number, locate the merchandise, bring it back to the counter and print the receipt.

Smart lockers make it much easier to organize and track online orders. The associate simply places the order in a smart locker and closes the door. The locker automatically notifies the customer that the order is ready for pickup. Purchase details can be automatically routed to the appropriate supply chain, inventory or finance workstreams, so the associate is free to serve more customers.

Simplify returns to win loyalty.

As shopping habits have changed, so has the rate of returns. American consumers returned an astounding $761 billion worth of goods in 2021.   That’s more than the 2020 US national defense budget. Why is this happening? The combination of free shipping and free returns enabled online shoppers to bracket purchases, ordering more items than they intend to keep.

Because 92% of consumers say they will buy again if product return process is easy, smart retailers are simplifying returns to generate repeat sales. Encouraging consumers to return items to a smart locker enables retailers to quickly restock the merchandise and resell it at full price and eliminates the high cost of return shipping. And because consumers also get their refunds faster, it’s a win for everyone.

Learn how smart lockers can help you ring up more sales.

Speak with a Pitney Bowes representative for more ideas on how smart locker technology supports an effective omnichannel strategy.

1 Survey: e-commerce consumers have high delivery expectations,

2 Consumers hate paying for shipping more than just about anything,'s the takeaway from new,to have their shipments expedited.

3 U.S. retailers announced twice as many store openings as closings in 2021, National Retail Federation

4 The Top Retail Trends in 2022, Square.

5 46 Cart Abandonment Rate Statistics, Baymard Institute

6 Customer Returns in the Retail Industry 2021, National Retail Federation and Apriss