Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined the challenge to retail caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve looked at some innovative ways retailers can respond.
Today, I want to look at two of the rules of retail in that new normal, starting with rule three: shoppers will favor retailers that prioritize and deliver transparency in product availability and assortment.
There’s a meme you may have come across: a photo of X’s on the ground every six feet for social distancing leading into a store, with the observation, “What a confusing time to be a pirate.”
It’s funny, but it also brings up a crucial way retail has been changed by COVID-19: for years, the shopping experience has been structured like a treasure hunt, and most customers have been more than happy to wander through the store searching for gems. In many of your retail experiences, your creative and merchandising teams have transformed Hi-Touch shopping into a diversionary form of entertainment that leads to brand affinity. (Goose bumps initiated.)
Today, though, that kind of search brings with it new concerns about health and safety. Shoppers don’t want the risk that comes with the search — they just want you to give them the treasure map.
Technology can let your customers confirm product availability before coming to your store, but it’s key not to stop there. It can also anticipate what they’re likely to be interested in, point them precisely to where they need to be — and ensure not only that their needs are met, but that they feel heard and understood.
If you make your online presence or app integral to the in-store experience, you can make your customers’ visits to your store more valuable — and you can increase their connection to your brand by reducing their perceived risk in doing so.
That brings us to the fourth new rule of retail in this new normal: consumers will seek out stores that offer a physical reassurance of security.
In an interview last week with Retail TouchPoints, I stressed that this is about more than just implementing social distancing or widening aisles. It’s about making your customers feel that their health and safety is an integral part of the in-store experience — and being active in how you do so.
If you have a digital signage network, announce your cleaning processes at regular intervals — and add clear statements like, “We’ve moved some of our inventory into the back for your protection. If you’d like to see anything, just ask,” or even, “We’re happy you’re here! If you’d like a NEW free disposable mask while you shop, just let us know.”
Be overt about the fact that we’ve made changes for you. We want you to be here, we’ve gone beyond what the city or county is requiring for your safety and comfort, and we’ve been thoughtful about what your desires will be — so please spend some time with us.
Next week, we’ll look at the fifth and final new rule of retail in this new normal, and we’ll begin looking in more detail at ways you can move forward.