Removing stress from the back-to-store experience

After one day of trading in the UK, retailers are trying to perfect the formula for operating safely on site.
18 June 2020
shopping covid
Anusha Couttigane

Principal Fashion Analyst

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Tales of endless queues outside Primark and shoppers neglecting social distancing rules are forcing staff to balance the need for on-site safety with an effort to encourage customers back into stores.

With this in mind, here are a few simple tricks and tips retailers can employ to make the physical shopping experience safe, convenient, and engaging for shoppers.

Implement smart queuing systems

Several tech providers have developed digital queuing software that enables shoppers to join a virtual queue via their smartphone. This allows them to browse other stores conveniently while waiting for their slot when it’s safe to do so. Tried and tested examples include WalkIn, which invites customers back to stores via SMS and WaitWhile, which offers additional functionality such as curbside queues and follow-ups thanking shoppers for their visits. The benefits of these mean the numbers of shoppers waiting outside stores is limited while shopper convenience is maximised. They are also easy to use from customers’ devices, so reduce labour for store staff.

Use guideline vinyls on floors to engage shoppers with different departments

While floor vinyls are already in place in most stores reminding shoppers about social distancing and one-way systems, there’s an opportunity to use these to take shoppers on a different journey. If you have special promotional areas or new departments, invite shoppers to follow a different path.

Imaginative use of in-store signage can make the experience more enjoyable, reducing shopper stress. (Source: Tudor Popa)
Imaginative use of in-store signage can make the experience more enjoyable, reducing shopper stress. (Source: Tudor Popa)

This encourages impulse purchasing by diverting customers from their core mission with intelligent interruption, while also distancing shoppers by directing them to different parts of the store. It can also help boost traffic to under-visited areas, while also making the in-store pathway more interesting for shoppers by giving social distancing a treasure-hunt spin.

Make crowd control fun by providing queue-side entertainment

Give shoppers something interesting to look at while queuing to enter or queuing to pay. This can be as simple as printing fun facts about the outlet or brand on crowd-control barriers or telling stories about how your brand has been supporting relief efforts during the pandemic.

Agile brands and retailers should look to use these new structures to engage with their shoppers. (Source: Tudor Popa)
Agile brands and retailers should look to use these new structures to engage with their shoppers. (Source: Tudor Popa)

With many shoppers queuing for up to two hours to enter stores, there’s an opportunity to engage shoppers in exciting innovative ways. Why not intersperse health and safety signage with cardboard cut-outs of characters from your licensed merchandise partners or fun selfie frames? Low-key creativity can go a long way towards turning a frustrating pain point into an imaginative, shareable experience.

Make the most of window displays

This is perhaps the first time in history shoppers will spend more time looking at your store windows than at what’s inside your stores. This makes window displays a vital canvas for showcasing products and partnerships.

Use these to showcase hit products and strong cross-category displays. Provide QR codes shoppers can scan to discover interesting activations while they wait or even use the space to feature entertainers, such as window jugglers, mime acts and magicians. Creatives and entertainers in the freelance creative sector have been hard hit by lockdown, so this is a good opportunity for retailers to show support by creating unique roles for them in stores.

Implement waiting lists, booking systems and bounce-back vouchers for future visits

Close-contact services, such as on-site beauty treatments, coffee stands and fitting services are still off-limits for most retailers. Yet these have been essential in driving footfall over the years in the context of the shift to online and the rise of retail-entertainment. While social distancing still precludes retailers from offering many of these services, that doesn’t mean demand isn’t there.

Use the opportunity of returning shoppers to implement waiting lists for when your stores are ready to roll out these services again. It will help shoppers feel cared for, provide a boost to CRM and provide forward-looking momentum giving customers a reason to return, while still helping retailers manage the relationship and traffic. Bounce-back vouchers for add-ons like coffee or discounted services will help to gradually rebuild interest in these aspects of the retail offer, many of which have been key investments for retailers in recent years.

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