Retail Unfrozen: Is Your Brand Prepared?

It’s like the world is playing a game of freeze tag and everything got frozen. Retailers, consumers, brands, everyone and everything. The lack of understanding of treatment for COVID-19 or a vaccine is looming large over everyone, and it remains unclear when life will actually return to normal or what will normal even mean.

Some providers have already pivoted to address current realities. Local restuarants are operating as mini grocery stores. And shuttered brick and mortars’ are luring consumers with curbside pickups. The question becomes “what can brands do today to be ready once the world unfreezes?”

There’s no doubt that a variety of both process and physical changes that must be implemented. Right now, stores should be looking at their layouts, equipment and procedures, and developing new configurations that cover safety gaps for shoppers and employees. By paying attention to what open grocery markets and drugstores are doing (or not doing), we have clues into what other retailers could and should be working on.

While at the supermarket, you may have experienced a “racetrack” of one-way traffic to minimize proximity to other shoppers (effective unless your store has an odd number of aisles!). Maybe you’ve been privy to store associates who place items in your cart to create a near-touchless experience. Or it’s possible you’ve experienced the practical solutions that encourage good hand hygiene and create barriers between consumers and cashiers at checkout. By learning from the practices that grocers have adopted today, other retailers can be better prepared for tomorrow.

What else can retailers do?

To reduce touch and ensure safety, the merchandising approach and logistics of current fixtures and displays will need careful consideration. Will you forego risk and go the traditional route of displaying products and having all inventory accessible for self-service? Will you poly-wrap products to create a wipeable inventory and protect shoppers? Or will you create a concierge experience in which a consumer makes a selection and then that item is available at check out?

Beyond physical barriers, the checkout experience presents additional opportunity for brands to implement measures that promote safety. Payment is one of those key opportunies. Consumers will want clear direction on distancing and procedures for making payment. The ability to sterilize between interactions will be critical, whether that’s through counter-top hand sanitizers, single-use coverings for credit machines, or contactless mobile payment. And what about packaging? Will there be none, sealable, wipeable, or same as current? These are all areas of checkout (and returns) that retailers need to consider.

Returning store employees will also need to be educated on any new procedures and their personal safety concerns must be addressed. Target , Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s, and others are leading the way in their commitment to employee safety. The realities of store staffing must be planned for as most retailers will most likely limit the number of associates on the floor to decrease risk. Having a lower number of employees will affect store resets, handling inventory change overs, shift planning and closing procedures. As employees come back, their retail attire will need to be carefully considered, from masks to gloves to how their uniforms evolve to meet new requirements. Being ready will require a coordinated effort – consider the viability of offering socially distant associate training prior to reopening stores so that your operations are ready to resume as close to full strength as possible.

These individual choices ladder up to an overall store experience that must be nimble based on local rules and feedback from customers and associates. Innovation will be critical for brands – leveraging technology can have a significant impact on success. From employee training to virtual fittings to flexible messaging on display screens, the ability to adapt through agile technology solutions can have a meaningful impact on both the short- and long-term. As consistency will be needed across all stores to set the stage for employees to come back ready to engage, INWK is a source [link to form] to help facilitate the pre-opening changes that need to happen prior to opening to the public. 

Are you rebound ready?

Simply reopening the doors will not work; immediate action will be needed in order to open with the health and safety measures necessary to reassure both employees and consumers. Retail will further evolve, but to be ready to meet that evolution, you must take measures now to be prepared for the new normal.

Contact us today to learn how INWK can help you prepare.

#reboundready #tagyoureit #covid19


VP, Consumer Insights

EYELEVEL, an InnerWorkings Company