This article is part of Raydiant’s Re-opening of Brick and Mortar series which interviews top retail industry experts to better understand the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the sector, how retailers should prepare for the re-opening and what trends, challenges and changes are expected over the next few months.
The following is an interview we had with Debbie Hauss, Executive Director, Content, Retail TouchPoints.
What will the re-opening of brick and mortar retail look like?
DH: In fact, e-Commerce retail never closed, and the companies that have embraced that are going to be ahead of others. Stores will re-open, but digital transactions are going to ramp up even faster than predicted a few months ago, so all retailers and DTC brands should be accelerating their digital efforts.
That said, stores are starting to re-open. As that process unfolds, retailers and consumers are going to have to be patient and considerate. Retailers need to make sure they clearly communicate their efforts to keep employees and customers safe.
What should retailers be doing now to prepare for the re-opening?
DH: They need to make sure they have the protocol for sanitizing and social distancing in place, and bring the entire internal team into the discussion. There will be stress – both internally and from shoppers – so frontline staff has to be trained to be able to handle any incidents and avoid confrontations that could be harmful.
Retailers with stores in multiple states need to determine, ahead of time, if they are going to follow individual states’ protocols or if they are going to put their own protocol in place for the entire company.
How will COVID-19 impact consumer behavior over the long term?
DH: In lots of ways. I just don’t see us returning to the previous “normal” any time soon. Visiting stores will be a much more considered decision, with a specific purpose in mind, beyond just a reason to get out of the house. Retailers should be thinking about making the store experience even more compelling and as contactless as possible.
Regarding purchase behavior, consumers with disposable income will be diverting money they may have spent on travel and entertainment to luxury items they may not have purchased otherwise. Brands should work on personalization marketing efforts to target those potential buyers.
What will be the lasting effects of COVID-19 on brick and mortar retail?
DH: Many stores will not survive, especially Main Street, Mom-and-Pop establishments. It’s sad but true. On the other end of the spectrum, some larger chains that were already struggling prior to the pandemic, will shutter at least some of their storefronts, if not all in some cases.
The retailers that remain need to accelerate the in-store innovations they may have been simply considering in the past, such as contactless payment and compelling experiences.
What retail technologies will see adoption accelerated due to COVID-19?
DH: In addition to contactless payment technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to play a more important role in dissecting shopper data to help retailers and brands present more personalized communications, marketing and promotions.
As the economy struggles to recover, more companies will likely offer solutions that provide interest-free staggered payments for larger purchases.
Virtual Reality (VR) also could play a bigger role in consumers’ online shopping experience, as a way to provide an almost store-like experience from shoppers’ homes.