New Norms/New Pathways to Purchase
As Stores Reopen: 5 Points of Consideration
Sometimes out of crisis, there arises opportunity. COVID-19 forced a shutdown for most retailers across the nation. Now, as many brick-and-mortar stores plan their reopenings, they’re realizing just how much of a whole new world it really is out there. Merchants have to assess their own situations and then prove to consumers theirs is a safe and inviting environment in this new physically challenging and restrictive world.
A report from Cowen, the financial services firm, found consumer sentiment toward most establishments has fallen into negative territory, according to Adweek.
“People feel less safe about reentering pretty much every category we track,” Cowen’s John Blackledge, managing director and senior research analyst, told Adweek.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating the lowest sense of safety and 10 being the highest, Cowen found concert venues have decreased from 4.5 in mid-April to 3.5 in mid-May. Restaurants and bars slipped from 5.4 to 4.6. Gyms went from 4.8 to 3.8. Retail stores, though, remained relatively flat, ebbing from 5.8 to 5.2 which means shoppers are about evenly split on whether or not they feel safe returning to stores once they reopen.
Addressing consumer concerns is made all the more hard because the pandemic took everything the industry knew about the typical shopping journey and threw it out the window. Identifying the latest effective methodologies is limited because not only have so few stores been open or reopened for business, but also the new “best practices” are being created, shaped and tweaked as we speak.
Medallion Retail has identified five points of consideration in what we’re calling the New Pathways to Purchase. Each reopening approach will likely vary a bit, with some executing it better and more effectively than others. But to be successful, it’s imperative that innovation and agility be at the forefront.
Currently, the only guidelines most stores have to work with are from the CDC regarding mask-wearing, handwashing and maintaining social distance. That leaves merchants on their own to rethink and recalibrate the shopper experience, something that may be particularly challenging for sectors like apparel and beauty, where touch is so fundamental to the shopping journey.
To get started on establishing your own best practices, Medallion suggests stores consider the New Pathways to Purchase:
1. Know Your Customer (And Which Approach is Best)
Stores need to understand the mission of the shopper. Shopping used to be an enjoyable experience, but now many people are looking to just get what they need and leave as soon as possible. A recent article in Chain Store Age points out how the coronavirus has changed shopper behavior at the grocery store. The foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai ran a study that showed consumers are more “mission-driven” and use each store visit to get as much done as possible.
The Placer.ai study also showed that shopping has shifted, decreasing on the weekends while increasing Monday through Thursday, according to the CSA article. The company also found that shopping has clearly shifted to the morning, between 6am and 11am Shopping from 11am to 4pm stayed fairly level, but evening traffic between 4pm and 9pm saw a significant decrease.
Changes in shopping behavior were reported by 83% of consumers, according to a recent survey by Field Agent, the on-demand, in store shopping insights platform. The firm reports that 51% of consumers say they’re shopping in grocery stores less since the outbreak, while 27% are actually shopping for groceries more. Among apparel shoppers, 70% say they’re shopping less in-store for clothes than before the pandemic began. And among those shopping for household consumables, 40% are shopping less in store.
Field Agent also reports that slightly more than half of all consumers (51%) say they’re making fewer store trips in general. Another 50% say they’re keeping their distance from other shoppers in store. And nearly half (49%) say they’re spending less time in stores, with 45% saying they’re spending less time browsing in stores or shopping as a leisure pastime.
Being that consumers seem so averse to going in store, merchants should work double time to turn as many guests as possible into repeat customers. For example, floor patterns or displays could be arranged to appeal to those heavy repeat shoppers. While stores are making the effort to better know their customer, they should find out if shoppers generally buy new products or if they’re looking at their standard go-tos. During the pandemic, when retailers seemed to regularly run out of entire categories of name-brand product, many customers were exposed to store brands they may have never noticed before. After discovering these private label items, shoppers likely noticed they cost up to 30% less than a name brand. This exposure to store brands is an opportunity for retailers to connect and develop a new relationship with an established customer.
2. Ease Their Fears
Considering the CDC is still recording COVID-19 statistics on a daily basis, it’s not surprising customers are still worried about shopping in nonessential stores. But their fears can be eased if retailers are transparent about their safety protocols. In our blog titled “Signs of the Times,” Medallion detailed how in-store and outdoor signage can soothe the skittish soul. Retail signage can calm customers before they even enter a business by advising what is expected of them as far as mask requirements, distancing rules and new occupancy regulations. The signage can help further by informing shoppers about what they can expect inside, from traffic patterns in the aisles to contactless payments.
This is also an opportunity for stores to develop branded safety standards that can be promoted everywhere—in store, online, in advertisements and on shopping bags.
Store reopenings also offer the chance to develop staff training that weaves safety standards into behaviors. For instance, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have store ambassadors who stand at the entrance and inform customers where items are and what to expect regarding safety protocols. This brings a human factor to the stores and lets customers know they can rely on these retailers for their safety and hygiene measures.
3. Make It Easy
An article in the Washington Post described American Eagle’s new approach to aligning merchandise practices with safety standards. The retailer’s strategy includes an infrared machine that takes customers’ temperatures before entering, greeters who offer disposable masks and hand sanitizer, pared down and rearranged shelves that separate categories like jeans and T-shirts into different areas, and plexiglass dividers at checkout. The clothes have also been folded differently, “to encourage hands-off browsing.” As a final safety measure, it offers curbside pickup for those who don’t want to go in store at all.
Since both stores and customers will be hyperaware of how much clothing items are touched, apparel retailers could also consider multi-arm wall racks to display various sizes of garments like T-shirts and hoodies. Such a display would give shoppers the ability to compare different fits without having to physically hold up the item.
Retailers could also consider posting QR codes as part of their window displays to help shoppers before they enter. Amorino, an international gelato dessert boutique, posted a QR code outside its shops. It began the practice when customers couldn’t go in store due to the virus. But it still works well to limit store occupancy, as customers can pre-order through the code. And according to Modern Retail, QR codes on Lacoste’s store windows enable customers to see what merchandise is available in store before entering.
4. Human Interactions Still Count
After all this time alone, human contact might prove very soothing to today’s consumer. As such, stores might create concierge services that can be accessed online to expedite in-store transactions. For example, if guests relate they prefer to limit their time in store, an e-concierge could tell them where the merchandise they’re seeking would be located within their specified location. Such a service could also inform guests as to what they might expect regarding line delays, no-touch try-ons and sampling.
Stores could also improve consumer engagement with online consultations. To make up for a lack of in-store services, Glossy reported beauty companies like Huda Beauty, Bare Minerals and Clarins launched virtual consultations. Store associates could handle the online appointment, or retailers could choose to work with a third-party platform like Hero, a video chat startup whose client roster grew during the shutdown.
“Beauty has been one of our standout categories since Covid-19 hit, due to a confluence of several trends at once: a growing interest in self-care, a surge in online shopping and a craving for human interaction at a time when most of us are limiting our time outside of the home,” Hero co-founder Adam Levene told Glossy.
5. Incentivize Them to Come Back
The old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” comes into play here. If already anxious shoppers walk into a store that doesn’t look clean, organized or isn’t following safety protocols, they may not come back. On the other hand, considering how tough current circumstances are, stores that reopen with a well-executed retail strategy that incorporates in-store safety practices will convince consumers to return.
If all is done well, stores can offer even more incentive to come back with loyalty programs, coupons or promotional giveaways like logoed facemasks, small keychain hand sanitizers, samples, etc.
As retailers prepare for the “next normal,” as it’s been called, some are bound to adapt better than others, inspiring those that follow to imitate and build off those practices.
But by then, things may be ready to change yet again.
For more insights and ideas on all things retail, you can tune in to MedallionRetail.com or download our free Returning to Retail brochure: Download Medallion Retail’s “Returning to Retail” brochure now.