As pandemic-related business restrictions ease and retailers reopen, they will be evaluated by how much they show they care about protecting their shoppers. Retailers have an immense responsibility for the attitude and presentation of their stores, in addition to the safety of all inside. We took a few shopping trips and found some good examples and some missteps.
Retails Should Think of What They Can Control – and Remember to Excite
What distinguishes those retailers that genuinely care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – whether they never closed or are about to reopen – is their evident efforts to be stocked with what shoppers want to buy while preventing their shoppers and workers from spreading the virus.
It’s easy to put up “safe distancing” reminders, but it will take thought-out safety standards, training and rock-solid teamwork for retailers to demonstrate they are taking responsibility for their shoppers. Here’s how.
Be Strict, But Be Flexible – and Be Surprising
Welcoming shoppers, and workers, into the store in the midst of a highly contagious pandemic is a massive responsibility. To get this right, retailers have to develop strict safety rules yet prepare for the rules to change – all while keeping the merchandise exciting.
And they have to share why these procedures are in place – it’s a good way to foster the sense of community that will be crucial moving forward.
This is the primary goal of retailers as they open their stores to cautious shoppers who nonetheless may be chomping at the bit to buy something in a store (like in the old days!).
5 Ways Retailers are Showing they Care, From the Field
We visited retailers in Texas, where lockdowns were recently eased, to see how some merchants were reopening and what smart ideas we could pass along to you. Following are our five takeaways.
- Make a first impression with confidence. Shoppers shouldn’t feel like they are taking a chance with their safety every time they enter a shop. The protocols followed inside the store should be communicated in a friendly way on the outside, in the window displays and entrance. At an American Eagle Outfitters store in Austin, we were met at the door by a shoe mat on which to wipe our feet, a peg board carrying free face masks, hand sanitizer dispensers and friendly step-by-step signage on how to shop safely.
- Incorporate product relevance into the crisis. If retailers keep an eye out, they will notice many of their products can support COVID-19 safety protocols. These goods may also serve double-duty by helping to relieve the unintended results of the pandemic’s effects – such as overly dry hands from all that washing. At the L’Occitane shop we encountered, customers were invited in to wash their hands with its luxury soaps and then moisturize them with its cocoa butter.
- Make sure the basics shine. Today, shopper’s trust is earned as much through imaginative merchandising as safety protocols. What do the in-store signs and displays say? Is the merchandise fresh and ready for the next season? We noticed a lot of outdated inventory and messaging in stores. At a Macy’s, we encountered Easter signs, a “Home for the Holidays” sale corner and used cosmetic testers out for the trying. If a retailer can’t get this right, shoppers might not trust its safety measures.
- Restore order and certainty. Employees and shoppers’ lives have been disrupted, and returning to the store for many is a chance to regain normalcy. As the shopping trip changes, it should emphasize order, confidence and ease. Retailers that have shown empathy with shopper stress include Auto Zone, which is making DIY “check engine light” tests available, easing a common yet upending concern. Painting one-way arrows on grocery store aisles and six-feet-apart boxes on the floor at the checkout inspire confidence that the retailer cares.
- Recognize the real value in joy. Lots of stores we visited relied on some sort of sale to get shoppers in. The thing is, once everyone has a sale, the sales no longer are special. Retailers might have better luck by simply being playful and fun – a retreat where COVID-19 concerns are checked at the door. At a Zumiez store, shoppers were invited in with signs that welcomed them to the party and offered what is so far the most creative way we’ve seen to ensure social distancing: By swinging your clothes around you.
Who Ranks High on the Spectrum of Caring?
Here’s what shoppers told us in our most recent COVID-19 shopper sentiment survey, “How America Shops® in a COVID-19 Crisis”
Access more content with WSL’s Free Reopened Retail Series for more photos and commentary of what non-essential and essential businesses are doing in a semi-opened retail world. And keep up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 insights when you sign up to our Trend Alert.