in the time of coronavirus

In this four part guide we look at how consumer behavior has changed, how stores need to adapt to those changes, the role technology can play, and how payments will play a part in helping businesses move forward.

Chapter 2
What’s in store for store layouts?

How you choose to adapt your store layout will be paramount to attracting footfall, improving sales, and keeping your doors open long term. Poor design choices could spell danger for your shoppers and staff, while a safe, considerate approach will foster feelings of trust and confidence. 

Making space for new ways of shopping

To create a safe in-store shopping experience, you’ll first need to rethink how to make the most of your physical space. Experts believe that the space required between customers in checkout areas may be up to five times greater than it used to be. New store designs should champion flexible, open layouts that can easily facilitate local health and safety protocols like social distancing. 

Consider your typical shopper journey. From the moment a customer arrives at your store, to the moment they leave, how can you integrate practical hygiene measures into your layout to provide a safe and enjoyable experience? 

The arrival

Picture a customer approaching your store. What do they see? Right from the start, shoppers will be looking for visual cues that a space is a safe and welcoming one, so don’t be afraid to make it obvious. Using signage in display windows or near the entrance will let shoppers know that you’re open for business, and that health and safety measures are being followed. Once inside, additional visual cues, notice boards and verbal instructions from staff will help educate and prepare customers for what to expect.

To prevent overcrowding, many stores will need to carefully monitor and limit occupancy levels. It’s a good idea to determine the number of people you can safely accommodate in-store, for example per the amount of square footage in your building, or the number of people per aisle. Many retailers are adopting manual tally counters to keep track of the number of customers entering and exiting a store. Others are using a simple “one in, one out” policy. Keep in mind that these methods require a staff member to supervise the coming and going of customers at all times - so if you’re expecting large crowds at your store, an automated occupancy counter system might be a better option. 

A space odyssey

Next up is your shop floor. Once a place to spark the senses and encourage customers to linger, you’ll now need to create as much space here as possible to ensure customers can keep moving and easily practice 1.5m shopping. Here are some safety measures we’ve seen used effectively: 

Wider aisles or one-way systems to regulate crowd flow.

Floor markings to indicate where people should move and queue.

Fewer products on display to create more space and discourage prolonged browsing. 

Wary about having less stock on the floor? Consider Dutch eyewear brand Ace & Tate’s ‘endless aisle’ setup. Shoppers can view the full selection of glasses available at a kiosk or via a tablet in-store, pay immediately, and have their glasses delivered to their home address or local store or once they’re ready. This keeps customers happy and sales flowing, while keeping in-store space free and queues to a minimum. 

While you can regulate crowd flow fairly easily, it’ll be much harder to manage your shoppers’ desire to pick up, touch and examine products. In Australia, government guidelines request shoppers only touch merchandise they intend to purchase, while in the US, zero touch browsing is likely to become prevalent. The measures you enforce will depend largely on what type of products and services you sell. Providing hand sanitizing stations and plastic gloves will help minimize the spread of germs to products and surfaces. If your store typically provides testers, it’s best to remove these from shelves if possible, or provide a different way for customers to view products from a distance, such as via staff demonstrations. Many retailers are reducing the number of fitting rooms available, or closing them off completely.

Close encounters

Now your customers have safely navigated your shop floor and found the items they’d like to purchase. How will they pay? You have a few options here. Many stores and service providers have introduced plexiglass barriers at checkout counters to protect customers and staff. Contactless payment options remove the risk posed by physical cash. Even better, you can reduce queuing by introducing mobile payment terminals that staff can take directly to customers on the shop floor. According to McKinsey, retailers with the highest offerings of touchless automation, both in-store and in warehouses, can expect a clear competitive advantage going forward.

Finally, think about how your customers exit your store. Can they easily distance themselves from customers coming in? Where can they leave their shopping cart for disinfection? One of the most unpleasant retail experiences of late is getting to the end of your shopping journey only to realize that used shopping carts are simply being passed on to the next customer, with no sanitization in sight.

May the store open

These health and safety measures should be executed in a way that doesn’t make your shoppers feel like they’re in The Handmaid's Tale. If you embrace thoughtful ideas that allow your brand’s personality to shine through, customers will feel more at ease. For handmade cosmetics company LUSH, seamless, sustainable experiences were a priority well before the coronavirus pandemic, putting them in good stead to cope with new challenges. The company’s mobile POS has been a great way to reduce queues and help customers pay quickly and safely. 

“We can give more freedom to customers to pay how they would like to pay (...) We can go to the customer rather than the customer having to queue and come to the till point.” 

Mike West ∙ Digital Director, LUSH

Think about what unique features or services people normally enjoy in your store. How can you meet these specific needs while upholding the latest protocols? For example, US retailer Macy’s is now offering "no-touch" beauty consultations with the option to test products on a piece of paper with a diagram of a face. 

Don’t be afraid to get creative, and stay true to your brand as much as possible. Keep checking in with your customers and staff, ask for feedback, and ensure your new measures are helping, not hindering, the shopper experience. 

Eternal sunshine of a happy customer

While you might not be able to offer the same customer service in-store as before, there are still ways to increase customer loyalty. Curbside pickups, click and collect or using your store as a mini-fulfillment centre are all ways to pivot your regular service to reflect the new needs and preferences of your customers. According to 451 Research, curbside pickup and order-ahead are not only driving transactions alongside online shopping, but will likely remain a popular shopping method for customers in the long term. 

Brompton Bikes had the advantage of early insight from their Asian stores as lockdown began in the UK.

“We were very fortunate to have the insight to be able to react quickly and adapt to the situation in order to best protect our business.”

Christina Lindquist ∙ Head of Marketing, Brompton Bikes

They launched a home delivery service from their UK website, London Brompton Junction store, and their wider 3rd party retailer network to ensure they could service key workers. The service is still running on a trial basis but may be continued as long as social distancing restrictions are in place.

According to a recent survey by Capgemini, more than half of 11,000 consumers surveyed said they prefer organizations that offer delivery assurances and flexible delivery options, both in the current crisis situation and beyond. Payment systems that facilitate omnichannel experiences like easily recognizing your customer, knowing what language or payment method they prefer to use, and smoothly facilitating online returns in-store are all ways you can help your customers feel valued.

“The goal of this situation now is not to maximize sales, but to maintain what has been built with hard work over time…. The challenge is to work on customer retention to keep them loyal.” 

Alberto Dal Santo ∙ Head of E-commerce, GrandVision Italia

Edge of tomorrow

While we can only speculate on what the coronavirus will mean for retail design long term, it will undoubtedly influence how retailers think about physical space for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps current DIY floor markers will give way to more sophisticated wayfinding signage or lighting systems. Maybe commonly used surface materials such as plastic and steel, where viruses can live for up to 72 hours, will be replaced by copper, on which a virus can only last for 4 hours. Even the air quality of stores is under review, with health professionals advocating an array of remedies from open windows to advanced filtration systems. Amazon’s pick-up-and-walk-out retail system has potentially found its ultimate use case.

“The retail landscape is changing very quickly at the moment (...) We’re almost at a stage where we don’t necessarily have time to work out what the future of retail is. We just have to start to take a rapid prototype approach.”

Alice Dorrington ∙ Ethics Coordinator, LUSH

Whatever’s in store for retail, one thing is certain. This period of flux will open up countless new opportunities for innovation - and if you’re able and willing to embrace the change and think creatively, you may never look back.

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