A Closer Look at the New Rules of Retail

Andy Austin
3 min readJun 19, 2020
Shopping needs to offer a clearer path to assortment undertstanding and selection.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at the major challenges retail is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve begun to look at some ways retailers can survive and thrive in this new normal.

Today, I want to look at the second rule of retail in that new normal: consumers no longer see retail as a leisure or entertainment activity.

As I told told Modern Retail earlier this week, we can no longer expect customers to browse casually or wander into stores at random. What we can expect is planned, specific and focused shopping trips.

A case in point: last month, Target’s first quarter earnings announcement led with the fact that the company had seen its average basket grow “as guests made fewer, bigger shopping trips.” Target had worked hard to present merchandise authority in a manner that allowed spending time there to be a diversion for shoppers who chose to do so. COVID-19 will slow or eliminate that.

So what can you do to ensure that you’re the store of choice for those fewer trips?

Start with the basics: the front of house must undergo a stark change — and that change has to look deliberate. Your store has to feel clean, and it has to feel socially distanced. Product has to move to back of house, with the promise that the items stored there are clean and sanitized.

But that doesn’t mean hiding your product.

Your customers may no longer be comfortable touching every pair of jeans on display to find their size, but they will be comfortable using digital technology to replace the experience of touch.

That could simply mean that a customer looks at jeans, either physically or digitally, then clicks an option on his personal mobile device, and a salesperson brings out a clean and sanitized pair in his size.

Or it could mean using beacons to trigger a message on the shopper’s mobile device about the section she’s in — “We see that you’re in the laptop section — can we sanitize a specific model and bring it to you to try?”

Still, for consumers to feel comfortable coming to your store in the first place, we need to acknowledge another new rule: shoppers will favor retailers that prioritize and deliver transparency in product availability and assortment.

That means much more than an online availability search on your website — you need to help people navigate your store in a faster, more efficient way. As IDC researcher Alan Webber put it in a recent blog post, customers now “want and expect a clear, multi-channel journey with clear next steps and a clear outcome.”

Next week, we’ll look at what that means in more detail.

In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me directly here, or click here to download our white paper on responding to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.



Andy Austin

A geek with a retail operations and customer experience background