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Reopen and reboot: An action plan for retailers in a post-coronavirus world

The road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight. Find out what strategies retailers should implement across online and offline channels.
Reopen and reboot: An action plan for retailers in a post-coronavirus world | EDITED

Originally published May 18, 2020 and updated March 14, 2021

As stores reopen and industry professionals gradually return to work, the road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight. 

Last year, we identified strategies retailers should implement as we entered a new normal. Read on to understand what measures to incorporate online and offline, as well as why our advice is still relevant now.

Get in touch with a Retail Specialist today to find out how your business can start implementing these strategies and prepare for trading post-pandemic.

Reimagine retail spaces

Reopening in 2020

Physical retail, as we know it, changed considerably in 2020. Retail spaces had to be adjusted to cater to strict new safety measures. Social distancing strategies meant adhering to 2-meter guidelines and sanitation moved into the spotlight - hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass barriers and card-only transactions were all implemented.

Why it's still relevant in 2021

While Texas is allowing businesses to reopen at 100% capacity, this is not the case for other places, meaning retail spaces will still need to adapt. Long queues occurred when shops reopened after months closed last year - a similar timeframe, managing this should be a top consideration. Use the coming weeks to analyze how effective your store layouts were last year and evaluate ways to create a more seamless journey and improve the customer experience - customer surveys are an effective insights tool here. Social distancing measures will continue to be a stark reminder of the pandemic presence. Try and minimize this impact by creating a joyous and positive atmosphere as you welcome customers back through the door.

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John Lewis & Partners Email UK - Jun 13, 2020 JoJo Maman Bébé Email UK - Jun 11, 2020

For safety & wellbeing

Reopening in 2020

Despite restrictions easing, many consumers remained cautious about returning to stores last June due to the virus' ongoing risk. Therefore, it was paramount that retailers clearly communicated the steps they were taking to reduce this risk and rebuild confidence levels. This transparency also extended to all areas of the business, as consumers also increasingly wanted to make sure that retailers had the safety and wellbeing of their employees front of mind.

Why it's still relevant in 2021

This time around, consumers will have a greater idea of what to expect going into stores. However, be sure to reiterate this clearly, particularly if you have made improvements since you were last open. Protecting the welfare of your employees will also be a long-term expectation. A recent survey by Usdaw has found that abuse towards shop workers has doubled since the outbreak of COVID-19. Supporting your employees here should be a priority when you reopen - Matalan and JD Sports have recently introduced body cameras to deter this behavior in stores.

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Warehouse Email UK - Apr 1, 2020

For delivery methods

Reopening in 2020

The global pandemic and subsequent store closures accelerated the industry's shift towards contactless Click & Collect and curbside pickup delivery options. Several retailers, including Size? and Missguided, also partnered with self-service locker company InPost. Ordering in store and shipping directly to customers' homes was also flagged as an important way to manage inventory levels once stores reopened and to maintain social distancing strategies.

Why it's still relevant in 2021

Blurring the lines between physical retail and ecommerce, alternative delivery methods are going to stick around post-pandemic and should remain a focus even when stores reopen. Retailers who get customers to shop via multiple channels will reap the rewards long term. Target has achieved notable success here - it reported that customers who shop both in store and via its same-day delivery service, Shipt, spent nearly four times and ten times more on average than those that shopped either solely in store or online, respectively.

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Loft Email US - May 22, 2020 Vans Email US - Dec 22, 2020

For returns

Reopening in 2020

As ecommerce boomed during the pandemic, so did the need to nail returns solutions to maintain customer loyalty. Extended returns policies and contactless drop-off points were considered a way to make it a more seamless process. Partnering with tech platforms specializing in reverse logistics capabilities was also earmarked as both a time and cost-effective strategy.

Why it's still relevant in 2021

New research by InPost has found that UK customers are potentially sitting on £2.4billion worth of unreturned goods bought online during lockdown. With many preferring to return in store, managing this experience should remain a top priority for retailers when shops reopen once again. As advised in 2020, make sure you have efficient staff levels to manage this and clearly communicate if you reduce your returns window to avoid confusion. Also, bear in mind that it helps get traffic back through the door and offers new upsell opportunities.

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KOIO Email US - Nov 12, 2020 Matalan Email UK - Jul 3, 2021

Considerations for 2021

The In-Store Experience

While there may be a flurry of footfall immediately after reopening, this needs to be sustained. Customers missed the experience element during lockdown and this should be a priority once stores reopen. Consider hosting live in-store events, such as Q&A's and new product launches, and film and promote them via your social channels. QR codes also offer the chance to make the experience more interactive and goes beyond just the purchase. For example, use them to offer exclusive discounts or to provide extra product information and styling tips.

Introduce recycling schemes

With an increasing number of retailers introducing take-back schemes within their stores, their importance will only grow as consumers have lockdown clear outs and a subsequent build-up of clothing to dispose of. George at ASDA is the latest retailer to introduce a clothes recycling scheme, in return giving customers a 10% off voucher for its online shop.

Integrate online & offline

Nailing the basics here will be essential for a seamless customer experience. For example, make sure customers can clearly see which products are in stock at which stores and allow customers to order products home directly from the store (mentioned above). Also, introduce discount codes that work both online and in stores to maximize their reach and reflect online styling edits within your store for an easier shopping experience.

Work with influencers

Partner with influencers to promote them shopping in store to encourage your customers also to return. This can help give cautious customers a better picture of the health and safety steps you have taken while the pandemic is still on-going. It should also be incorporated into your long-term influencer strategy - Uniqlo partnered with influencer Olivia Jackson in December to promote her shopping for gifts in store and using its new self-checkout machines.

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Image via Heftiba on Unsplash Instagram - Olivia Jackson H&M Email US - Oct 17, 2020

Contributions by kayla and Venetia.

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