Physical retail, as we know it, will change. Ahead of retailers reopening in major markets, what are key trends to be aware of?
Contractions: As some locations prepare to open, others will permanently cease trade as the pandemic forces businesses to reduce costs, further digitalizing the retail landscape. Department stores, which were already struggling pre-coronavirus, are shrinking their presence. Nordstrom announced at least 16 stores across the US wouldn’t reopen after lockdown. Yet, fast fashion brands are not immune. Oasis and Warehouse shuttered all their stores while H&M closed eight stores in Italy.
In-store social distancing: Physical spaces will need to be adjusted to cater to safety regulations. Ahead of reopenings, ensure your business has a strategy to manage crowds and distribution of shoppers throughout the store, particularly in dense areas such as fitting rooms and counters. Use 2-meter floor markers to encourage social distancing, as well as space out clothing racks and fixtures to avoid congestion. Both Macy’s and Nordstrom are reopening with plexiglass barriers installed at registers and accepting card-only transactions.
Spotlight on sanitation: With increased hygiene expectations, stores need to provide customers with hand sanitizer stations in high-traffic areas, as well as transparency on the depth and frequency of cleaning. Upon reopening, retailers offering beauty services will need to be ‘no touch’ – avoid customers handling testers themselves and make sure single-use applicators are supplied. Halt services such as alterations, piercings and bra fittings, as well as customers trying on underwear and swimwear. Provide masks and regular wellness checks to all staff and vendors.
Communicate hygiene & safety
Transparency will be paramount trading in the ‘new normal’ and retailers need to communicate both their online and offline hygiene and safety efforts to ensure survival. Caring for the health and wellbeing of staff in every area of the business will remain vital and is a running theme within retailer communications. Amazon and Next are just some of the retailers taking to Instagram to share how colleagues are kept safe with temperature checks, thermal scanners at distribution centers and staggered entry into warehouses.
With rental and resale platforms growing in popularity, retailers handling second-hand items need to provide garment cleaning to ensure continued business during these challenging times. Existing examples of this include express communicating via email that its products will be reviewed by a team of inspector such as Rent the Runway that added detailed sanitizing methods on its FAQ page. With the foreseeable influx of returns, keep product cleaning front of mind and be sure to communicate to customers how exchanged items are handled.
Explore delivery alternatives
According to a recent consumer servey by Shekel, 87% of US customers prefer to shop in stores with ‘touchless or robust self-checkout options,’ making a case for contactless Click & Collect and curbside pickup to accelerate once stores reopen. Size?, a UK retailer, is communicating the use of delivery via InPost lockers.
To help manage inventory as well as offer less contact, consider the option of ordering in store and having products shipped to customers’ homes. Personalization could also play a future role in this space. A month ago, Mary Katrantzou leveraged a personal shopping service and offered ‘at your doorstep’ – inviting London shoppers to try on pieces at home, pay for what they wanted via a link and leave the rest to be collected.
Finally, retailers need to consider the packaging in which they’re sending products. While plastic is easy to clean, its use will set retailers’ sustainability efforts back. Businesses need to look for solutions that are both reusable and environmentally friendly as well as easy to disinfect. This also goes for shopping bags in store.
Prepare for an influx in returns
The reopening of stores will undoubtedly see returns increase as consumers look to exchange or refund items purchased during lockdown. Ensure you have sufficient staff coverage to manage while following store safety regulations as well as offer contactless pickup options. Additionally, consider your current policy – can it be extended even further? During this challenging time, brands that can offer a more seamless return process will have a better chance of retaining customers in the future. With online returns already a costly pain point, partnering with tech platforms specializing in reverse logistics capabilities is an option to save time and money. Dominating this space, shipping specialist Optoro recently partnered with Returnly to help brands manage, process and resell returned products.
Are pop-ups over?
While brands are less reliant on pop-ups and activations for the time being (unless on Animal Crossing), once safety restrictions ease, there will be an opportunity to continue building in-store experiences. Pop-ups can also serve as an incubator for new businesses to test the physical market in a post-coronavirus economy.
During lockdown, China successfully rolled out a contactless delivery service in 184 cities for takeaway food to be collected from designated smart lockers. Adding on from delivery alternatives, self-service pickup and drop off lockers, similar to those offered by Amazon, could enter the mainstream in retail’s future to further reduce physical interactions.
To keep up with the momentum for online shopping during reopenings, retailers need to be creative with their e-comm presence. During lockdown, fashion retailers were quick to experiment with tech – virtual store platform Obsess saw a 300% increase in inbound inquiries towards the end of April. With touch services still suspended in store, explore digital services to fill the gap.
For more data-backed insights and analysis, sign up to our weekly Insider Briefing.