THE LATEST STATISTICS tell everyone in retail what they already know: A lot of Americans now shop online. How many? Some 79 percent or 263 million of them.
That doesn’t mean they’re lost to retailers – 46 percent of them still prefer shopping in physical locations and, as supply chain issues linger, leading to delays in parcel deliveries, more consumers are expected to be heading to brick-and-mortar retail locations. The shoppers are out there; the issue is getting return visits.
The core changes are touch-free, sanitation and automation – safety before style, if you like, but the retail design sector is nothing if not inventive so it is probably just a question of time before safety becomes stylish.
How’s that going to play out? Here are seven retail trends to watch.
And while you are watching them, above all, as the National Retail Federation advises, stay flexible.
The National Retail Federation advice may not yet quite be a retail design trend, but it could end up guiding the way forward for smart retailers in a changing post-pandemic world. “Flexible design means that instead of making permanent bricks-and-mortar changes, allow for things like store layout to be easily modified when consumer demand takes a different turn,” says the Federation blog.
Mind Your Distance
If the pandemic has brought one change to public life that nobody could not notice, it is safety issues associated with social distancing.
As the interior-design blog Highstreet puts it: “Masks, queued, check body temperature, take the basket, follow the instructions, repeat.”
That sounds like a recipe for taking all the fun out of retail, but retailers ahead of the curve are already getting creative with ideas like social distancing equals sparser inventory … weather permitting, it may even lead to outdoor retail.
Take a Deep Breath
Overlooked in discussions of post-pandemic retail until recently is ventilation. Vin Gupta, professor of health data and respiratory disease at the University of Washington and chief health officer for Amazon, points out that 100 years ago, when the world battled cholera, water contamination was the problem; today it is the air we share. “The big challenge of our time is how do we ventilate,” says Gupta.
Total Retail calls better filtration and HVAC systems “invisible extras,” but whatever they are called ventilation is a post-pandemic safety and sanitation change that is here to stay.
The Consumer Interface
Call it “technology” if you like, but the retail experience is going to be reimagined in terms in-store point-of-sale areas, allowing for touch-free transactions, facial recognition technology and frictionless transactions.
Again, it’s all about safety and sanitation and it is going to revolutionize retail in ways that Amazon imagined it when it opened its touchless grocery store in Seattle in February 2019. If some called the high-tech store over the top back then, now it looks like Amazon had a crystal ball.
Click and Collect
Curbside pickup, as it is also called, involves customers ordering online and collecting their orders in-store and it has been surging in popularity as a relatively contactless mode of retail throughout the pandemic. How it will ultimately shape physical store layouts is no doubt still evolving, but at the very least we can expect the emergence of both centralized and departmentalized pickup zones.
Could the near future bring contactless supermarket pickup zones – refrigerated and accessed with mobile apps and QR codes? If we can imagine it, it is probably coming out way.
Make It Interactive
As customers trickle back to physical stores, brick-and-mortar retailers need to make shoppers feel safe while also engaging them and keeping them coming back for more. As the Retailcustomerexperience blog puts it, “Customers aren’t satisfied with spending their money in a cold, utilitarian way — when they give you their business, they want a memory in return.”
For example, customer interactions with products should be allowed but with safety precautions, and one-way aisles can lead them onto their next instore destination.
Hello, I’m a Robot
According to TechRepublic, robots are not only coming to a store near you; they are changing the face of retail. Of course, they all say that, but imagine this TechRepublic description of a New Balance store:
“Customers can get a 3D scan of their foot, giving them the exact specifications and ideal fit for their shoe purchase. They then watch their shoes being made in the shoe manufacturing area. Customers can even stop by the ‘customization bar’ where they can customize sneakers and have them shipped to their homes.’
Expect robots to be doing a lot more than cleaning floors in the near future of retail.
In fact, if it is possible and it can make retail leaner, safer and more sanitary expect it to be changing shopping experiences soon.