As the global pandemic continues to wreak havoc, U.S. retailers are having to rewrite the rule book on what it is that will help them thrive this holiday season.
The threat of future outbreaks and possible lockdowns mean retailers are having to take a long view on how they enable the operational flexibility to adapt to fast-changing conditions. These include evolving their physical stores to manage social distancing and implementing other control measures across their businesses.
It’s no secret that stores must limit customer numbers and address any potential congestion areas – including payment points, entrances and exits. They must leverage signage and visual aids that provide clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene. It’s a tall order to create safe in-store spaces for shoppers, but getting it right is critical to assuring anxious customers, bolstering safety and maintaining long-term foot traffic and revenue recovery.
To restore shopper confidence and get people back in store, retailers will have to continue to demonstrate that they are taking stringent precautions, such as providing a means to manage queuing, in-store capacity and foot traffic, as well as ensuring stores and equipment like payment pads, shopping basket handles and carts are cleansed thoroughly. It will also continue to be a challenge to enforce social distancing requirements and manage contactless options for purchase and pickup, but these are essential for shopper confidence.
Decisions will also persist regarding how to handle fitting rooms, what happens to goods that shoppers handle, and how to cater to “at-risk” customers. However, stores don’t want to alienate customers in the process. It is a fine balance.
New experiences improve loyalty and transaction value
To address some of these ongoing challenges, in addition to solutions like queue management, retailers can consider occupancy managers and use pre-booked appointments to minimize risk.
Initiating out-of-hours, in-store shopping appointments for premium customers is another way of providing a personalized and safe shopping experience that’s tailored to a customer’s individual needs. Booked online, customers can highlight the purpose of their shopping trip, identify which products they’d like to view on arrival in-store, or request staff provide curated recommendations on the day.
For shoppers preferring to remain in the safety of their homes, online video appointments offer all the benefits of a personal shopper experience. Combining the intimacy of an in-person meeting, with the opportunity to showcase specific products, they represent a next-generation shopping experience that’s a powerful brand differentiator.
What are other things to consider? There are many options – everything from livestreamed promotional events to product demonstrations and style consultations – and they all introduce the opportunity to collect more data on customer preferences, enable better brand experiences and drive sales.
And then there’s the next generation of click and collect: curbside pickup. Socially distanced and if done well, this can really improve a customer’s experience of blending the best of online and offline.
Training staff to improve the customer experience
While solutions such as occupancy managers and using pre-booked appointments will give retailers greater visibility and control, it is vital to train teams so they can confidently enforce new protocols and support customers navigating the “new norms” of shopping. Options such online chat services with members of the sales team will give some retailers an advantage and capture pent-up consumer demand.
Without knowing what the next few months hold, shoppers are tentatively returning to stores when they have to and choosing to blend these experiences with what technology and innovation have to offer. It is those retailers that are demonstrating their commitment to creating safe shopping environments and demonstrating they have the appropriate procedures in place that are gaining the trust of nervous shoppers.
As we tentatively navigate through what the pandemic throws our way, what’s clear is that old brand loyalties are fading, and new ones are being formed based around a whole new set of rules.
John Federman, CEO of JRNI , an experiential relationship management (XRM) platform for scheduling and managing personalized experiences at scale.