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 Rachel LaConti, Senior Manager of Location Partnerships at Happy Returns.
What will the re-opening of retail look like?
RL: As local restrictions begin to lift, we’re starting to see a wave of retailers reopen across the country, and one thing is instantly clear – shopping is not going to look or feel the same as it did pre-pandemic.
Businesses will focus on creating a safe and welcoming environment for both employees and shoppers, and a plethora of new guidelines will be put in place to achieve this. From cleanliness and distancing measures to creative ways to increase foot traffic, there will be a period of trial and error as the retail world discovers the best way to move forward. It’s important to acknowledge that all retailers and shoppers are figuring out this next normal together, as we each adjust to a new environment in which safety is paramount.
What should retailers be doing now to prepare for the re-opening?
RL: The very first thing to do is get a very clear understanding of your local guidance on safety measures, to ensure all necessary precautions are implemented to protect shoppers and employees. New guidelines will include the use of required personal protective equipment, increased cleaning, social-distancing signage, and limited store occupancy.
It’s vital to make sure shoppers are aware of these changes before they enter your store. In addition to posting the new guidelines at the store entrance, consider messaging your customer contact list with details about the new restrictions. Use the email as an opportunity to make them feel comfortable about returning, ensuring that their safety is your top priority.
From there, it will be about discovering creative ways to get shoppers through the door. Retailers we’ve talked to are considering a number of tactics, including in-store markdowns and offering unique services to entice shoppers. Paper Source and Cost Plus World Market, for example, will continue to host Happy Returns Return Bars to provide an additional reason for customers to visit. In fact, Paper Source has already received calls from customers asking if the Return Bar service is available again, as it’s a determining factor in whether or not they want to come shop in-person.
How will COVID-19 impact consumer behavior over the long term?
RL: There was obviously a huge spike in eCommerce sales while people were sheltering in place, and we expect that trend to long outlast the pandemic itself. Many consumers were introduced to the convenience of online shopping in new ways, and will continue to expect that type of on-demand service.
The desire for convenience will carry over to brick-and-mortar stores as well. Shoppers, now interested in spending less time in-store, are attracted to things like curbside pickup and Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) policies. Retailers will need to implement innovative shopping options like these in order to raise loyalty in customers who are looking to both stay safe and continue the type of effortless shopping that they experienced online.
What will be the lasting effects of COVID-19 on brick and mortar retail?
RL: In addition to curbside pickup and the BOPIS method mentioned above, there will be a focus on providing a touchless shopping experience wherever possible. Payment will be one of the biggest areas affected, as cashless payment options and digital wallet use will increase in stores across the globe. Appointment shopping may also become the norm for many retailers who are looking for new ways to ensure that their customers feel safe shopping in-person.
Even more retailers will look into an omnichannel approach, with a strong focus on digital. Customers are more likely to shop if they’re provided with multiple options to create an experience that is the most comfortable and convenient for them.
What retail technologies will see adoption accelerated due to COVID-19?
RL: Retail’s employment of new technology will be one of the longest-lasting results of the pandemic. The need for a digital presence largely increases as eCommerce accelerates. Contactless card and mobile payments will be the preferred methods, as shoppers make an effort to not touch cash or POS keypads.
Beyond payment and online shopping, advancements in the use of augmented reality will be accelerated. Technology will allow shoppers to feel like they’re in store – picking up and inspecting products, asking questions to virtual assistants, and even trying items on – all from the comfort of their computer or smartphone.
Retailers can also experiment with a “grab-and-go” method, which allows shoppers to bypass checkout lines and instead simply pick items off the shelf and leave. Radio-frequency identification technology and sensor fusion keeps track of merchandise, and charges shoppers for the items they take. This technology, which already existed but will now be leveraged and utilized in new ways, allows retailers to improve the checkout experience and increase loyalty as the retail world rebuilds.