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 Julie Bula, CFO and Co-Founder at Sweft LLC.
What will the re-opening of retail look like?
JB: Messy. Retailers will struggle with figuring out how to keep their customers safe, healthy and happy while not eating though all of their profits with increased overhead costs from additional staffing and sterilization needs. Consumers are also going to be fickle about what they are and aren’t willing to leave their homes to buy and how long they are willing to wait to get into a store and make their purchase until all social distancing restrictions have been lifted. Even then, it will be a real challenge managing to the masses and their comfort levels surrounding a return to “normal”.
What should retailers be doing now to prepare for the re-opening?
JB: Retailers need to focus on what their customer expectations are for the experience they want when they walk back through their doors. Is it a personal touch or an expedient purchase? Stay at home has created pent up demand for normalcy. People are creatures of habit. They rationally understand that there will be changes when they enter their favorite stores again, but will still crave some sense of the familiar. Whether or not a retailer can figure out what the key factors are for their customers and make them happen as much as possible will determine their re-opening success.
How will COVID-19 impact consumer behavior over the long term?
JB: COVID-19 has accelerated the shift of shopping to online as the primary channel for consumers to buy both essential and non-essential goods. Hurdles that previously existed to consumer comfort with buying these goods remotely, including online payment processing and quality of product and delivery for perishable goods, were overcome during the pandemic out of necessity. The ease of having deliveries for literally anything and everything directly to your door will prove to be something consumers will continue to use regularly to make their lives easier as they resume their normal activities with many time demands from extracurricular activities.
What will be the lasting effects of COVID-19 on brick and mortar retail?
JB: Brick and mortar stores will evolve to be primarily for experience and immediate need fulfillment. Nothing on a website can truly evoke the essence of a brand like an in-store experience. This is true whether that brand uses music and scent to evoke different emotions and aspirations from a customer or interactive demos that let you use products before you buy. Even though delivery times have gotten impressively fast – usually only a day or two for most retailers – customers will still need to “run out” and buy a few things they’ve forgotten for a project or for an impromptu event.
What retail technologies will see adoption accelerated due to COVID-19?
JB: Retailers will be forced to implement technologies to maintain the new “rules of engagement” in stores as well as compete effectively online. Options that support online selling by allowing teams to work together from anywhere to launch products faster with better content will be necessary. These technologies will need to provide optimized solutions to product workflow, studio, copy, and sample management as well as website functionality, stability, and customer service. Ideally, a workflow management solution will be end-to-end, but maybe multiple point solutions. Without technology to streamline these processes retailers will struggle to keep up with competition from Amazon.