It is true that retailers once enjoyed the privilege of providing great in-store experiences and proved to be a major source of revenue for them. However, in a world where experiences have taken over as a differentiator from product and price, Covid-19 came as a reality check and consumers recognized how poorly retailers were prepared. While a lot of effort and spend is currently going into improving experiences online, getting consumers to enjoy the same treatment in-store, and allowing them to feel a sense of security while visiting a physical outlet would be the key to unlocking the future of retail.
There are several aspects of a store that will have to undergo transformation to impact a positive customer experience. Looking at every physical touch point and either removing it entirely or ensuring it is safe will become key. Some of the more common examples of these experiences would be touchless kiosks and the emergence of fintech innovation that can ease the wary consumer while visiting a physical store. Retailers are beginning to make use of Mobile POS systems for instant payment to avoid long queues. Adding an after pay tender to their POS/MPOS or customer app could be a major driver for the customers to make a purchase.
Rethinking the In-Store Experience
Retailers who are ahead of the curve, have adopted phygital retail strategies by combining their in-store and online experiences and providing a seamless journey designed with the consumer at the centre. By identifying the priorities of the consumer, their top needs and causes for concern, retailers can look at innovating their in-store experience by designing practices that promises hygiene, fewer touchpoints, and quick resolution to common problems.
Here Are Some of the Low Touch Strategies That Retailers Are Adapting to Keep up with the Times:
Smart Mirrors: If a smart mirror is strategically placed in a mall, consumers can walk up to it and find what they’ve been meaning to buy from their favourite store. They can select their size, do a virtual try-on, and if they like it, they can securely pay right on the spot for the merchandise on the screen.
These mirrors can act as a reflection of the retailer’s full inventory and provide consumers with immediate insight without sorting through shelves of clothes. They can also be used to push offers, discounts, and even upsell on products to the consumers.
This can be instrumental in driving foot traffic to the store, remove some of the friction and time-consuming activities from the experience.
Reduced Customer Associates: Retailers are implementing strategies that will reduce staff -customer interactions in order to reduce the risk of Covid transmission while still preserving some of the social components of customer service. While most retailers have brought in some combination of plexiglass, buzzers and face shields to socially distance interactions with consumers, on the other extreme, Amazon Go has an end to end touchless shopping experience using “Just walk out” technology.
Strategic Pick Up locations: With the boom in curb side and in-store pickups, retailers had to think about the purpose of their store from a design perspective. Some retailers have installed automated contactless and collect boxes. When customers come to pick up their product, a QR code helps them collect their merchandise.
Store design: Store designs are getting a major overhaul to accommodate less crowding, better social distancing and technologies that will enable touchless shopping. This also includes a focus on better ventilation and air-conditioning systems that will help promote hygiene and provide clean air.
Smaller and quick pick-up stores: Stores are planning to go away from bigger stores to smaller, and targeted stores to penetrate rural and urban areas so that consumers don’t have to travel far to shop and also attract new shoppers. This also helps them to distribute the crowd across different stores.
While digital commerce seems to be getting a lot of attention these days thanks to a pandemic underfoot, it is prudent to come out with hybrid business models that do not solely depend on one channel of revenue. Take luxury products such as jewellery for instance. They are commodities that are closely tied to emotion, which is difficult to replicate online, as compared to the experience at physical stores. That means, some stores are not going away and there is increased responsibility of making the in-store experience superior.
- Check-out counters, whether staffed or designed for self-service, with the incorporation of touchless technologies.
- Integrating virtual and augmented reality technologies to help facilitate virtual or controlled try-on.
- Enlarging or re-configuring employee areas for social distancing, incorporating a wellness space, and areas where they can sanitize before and after shifts.
While creating a unified commerce journey that brings in seamless experiences across all channels was a priority for all retailers, COVID-19 has managed to speed up the timeline for us, pushing this initiative from a futuristic conversation to a must-have necessity.
Many of the above strategies align well with retailers who are already transforming the retail experience prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are enough opportunities to respond to consumer concerns; there are opportunities for creative, smart retailers to evolve their businesses for long-term success as well as meeting the immediate challenges of this time. The store of the future will be re-imagined, but it will be here to stay.
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