Five Ways to Adapt the Retail Experience in Response to COVID-19

From hospitals to open office floor plans, COVID-19 will dramatically change the way we interact with the world around us. For retail brands, the pressure will be particularly acute.

Looking Ahead

Marketing leaders at retail brands must first respond to the immediate needs of the day (e.g. implementing work from home policies, reevaluating budgets, etc.). However, they continue to track and monitor larger trends at play. As consumer values like “security” rise alongside expectations for brands to take action on the public health crisis (subscription required), here are five ways that retail brands can adapt the retail experience in response to COVID-19:

1.  Promote “whole” customer health and safety.
Today, half of consumers (50%) believe that a promise to keep personal information secure is an important part of deciding whether or not to work with a brand. It isn’t hard to imagine consumers holding brands to the same, or higher, standard when it comes to personal or family health. Although it ranks low relative to current consumer concerns,  providing and promoting a healthy and sanitary shopping environment will be key to renewing consumer confidence and trust after the spread of the virus is moderated (see Table 1, ranked items three and four).

Table 1: Top 5 Ways Consumers Expect Companies to Act on COVID-19 Developments

Company Action
Notify customers if the company believes consumers may have been exposed to the virus at a company location
Provide up-to-date information about shortages, delivery or service delays
Implement additional measures for disinfecting in-store or physical locations owned by company
Update/communicate company rules that ensure customer safety and health
Waive service fees and penalties (e.g., late fees, cancellation penalties)

2.  Limit self-service and shared touch points in retail store environments.
In a post-COVID-19 world, retail establishments should work to limit the number of shared touch points and surfaces among store visitors and store employees. This might mean:

– More self-checkout kiosks and point-of-sale protection, like these screens introduced by Woolworths.

– Limited or staff-only access to food-service items, like creamer carafes at coffee shops, or condiment dispensers at restaurants

– Reduction in customers handling merchandise by increasing staff or concierge-like assistance with in-store basket building (e.g. shopper assistance to select, pull and assemble groups of items).

– Increasing consumer interest in using their own collapsible shopping carts versus store-provided carts.

3. Increase experimentation with at-home try-on and virtual product demos.
In line with rising consumer values, like security, shoppers may look to retailers to increase messaging and accountability around the chain of custody of merchandise. Brands, like Rent-the-Runway, have been quick to outline this in recent emails to its customers. Assuming customers are more risk averse to touching or interacting with products in a retail storefront environment, expect more brands to begin experimentation with at-home try-on and virtual product demos.

4. Rethink and revise retail store hours.
Just as retailers have rushed to alter store open times to accommodate higher health risk populations, store close times are also up for review. By closing earlier, retailers increase the amount of time store teams can spend on ensuring more rigid compliance with new corporate and public health mandates. However, this directly challenges the value proposition behind a 24/7 retail operation.

In the months to come, expect retailers to increase experimentation with the 24-hour store format. Marketers should be ready to update campaigns and promotional copy that  highlights potentially more limited access to only “essential” departments after regular store hours (e.g. pharmacy, functional beverages, dairy, etc.)

5. Promote contactless payment at retail locations.
In the not-so-distant future, the sharing of keypads and screens, and the exchange of payment (card or cash) between retail associates and customers may be discouraged. As if on queue, Amazon is beginning to license its no-checkout technology. Just as food and grocery delivery services have started to promote contactless pick-up and drop-off, storefront retailers should consider refreshing brand messages around acceptance of digital and phone-based payments (i.e. Venmo, Apple Pay, etc.).

A cashier uses a touchscreen point-of-sale device.
Contactless payments could help reduce the number of shared surfaces in use by retail store employees and visitors.