This week marked the week that all retailers have been eagerly awaiting since lockdown started over 11 weeks ago. After 3 months of shop closures with consumers restricted to internet shopping, the good old-fashioned bricks and mortar experience was available to the public again.
Whilst this is a significant step towards everyday life and restoring normality, there are still big questions around what the new normal looks like both in store and online.
The first of which relates to the safety concerns of the instore experience. How will the pandemic impact retailer’s ability to manage instore traffic? What impact will the customer limits have on experience and sales? How will store selling space be arranged to maximise sales whilst minimising the rate of transmission? There are even question marks around seemingly basic store operations such as replenishing shelves. We’ve already seen the likes of Selfridges implement a one customer per 20 square metres of the store.
I see all these unanswered questions pointing towards a more data driven approach to managing the instore experience.
As consumers, we’ve had to adapt to only shopping online, as highlighted by the £5.3bn we’ve contributed to e-commerce sales this year. The likes of Waitrose has taken more than 150,000 online orders in one week for the first time ever, while Ocado is looking to raise over £1bn from investors following the increased demand for online deliveries.
We’ve already seen retailers responding to the realities of COVID-19. Since 25th March Crocs has donated 860,000 pairs of shoes globally to the healthcare industry, following feedback from healthcare workers who had specifically asked for Crocs to provide ease on their feet throughout the pandemic. This is a great example of a retailer looking to support the efforts against the pandemic whilst also gaining potential future customers through this gesture of good will.
With such a broad range of shops available on the High Street, coupled with the expected reluctance from shoppers to freely walk into a shop, customer analytics will have a big role to play in retailers directly engaging with their customers to offer reassurances that their stores are safe.
They will not only have to know what products their customers are looking for or purchasing, but also their habits and behaviours when in store. For example, highly populated areas within a store will need to be readjusted to disperse customers throughout their instore experience. High Street giants, such as M&S and John Lewis, have already looked to address this through implementing technology solutions to enable customers to check out on their phone and queue remotely.
Other incentives have included a revised marketing strategy, as the likes of Hermes and De Beers have opted to utilise augmented reality (AR) in their shop windows through interactive/3D window displays. This is something Burberry has already benefitted from earlier in the year when they introduced an AR shopping tool. The hesitancy caused by Covid-19 will serve to fuel investment in this space over the coming months.
Despite the obvious pressures placed on High Street retailers, the pandemic has also underlined the importance of the digital experience as more consumers look to shop remotely. A recent Gartner study of the top 25 online retailers found that customer experience drives over two-thirds of customer loyalty, even outperforming variables such as brand and price combined in terms of influence.
As we embark on the new normal shrouded in uncertainty, retailers who will profit from the revolution in shopping habits will be those who are able to introduce innovative marketing techniques such as augmented reality, implement robust policies to ensure a safe instore experience and drive end to end efficiency to minimise their impact on margin and ultimately, be able to engage with their customers either in store or digitally to leverage brand loyalty.