COVID-19 turned 2020 into the year of e-commerce, but a retail expert with integrated design firm Mackenzie says it will take more than vaccines to turn 2021 into the year consumers flock back to in-store experiences.
With a client list that includes Fred Meyer, 24Hour Fitness and many others, Makenzie offers services ranging from land use planning and structural engineering to interiors. That gives Terry Krause — the firm’s principal, architect, and head of retail — a good sense of how activities such as shopping and working out will evolve as the pandemic is slowly contained.
Beyond the expansion of options such as curbside pickup and delivery, many retail brands that have managed to reopen have had to make major changes to their physical environments.
Some of these changes, such as layouts that mandate one-way flows of shoppers or limits on the number of shoppers in-store, are at odds with traditional CX objectives of getting more people through the doors. The question is which of these will remain throughout 2021 or longer, and which ones will slowly fade away.
“There were a lot fo things that had to be done to these stores that, once they’ve been done and they’re built, they won’t go back,” Krause told 360 Magazine, citing touchless restrooms where taps are controlled by hand gestures or the foot. “There are other elements, like the one-way aisles and plexiglass screens, that are probably, for the most part, temporary barriers. Those were ‘in the moment’ changes in response to questions of how do we make our customers feel safe?”
Some aspects of the in-store experience were already shifting in ways that the post-pandemic era will probably further accelerate, Krause said. These include innovations such as auto-pay in grocery store that allow customers to check out without using a cashier or a kiosk.
The rise of ‘Safe Touch’ experiences
There will also be an increased emphasis on “safe-touch experiences,” such as private bays where customers can hold and interact with products before purchasing, Krause said.
“Stores are going to become more of a showroom — not just a place where you see clothes on hangers and a rack and shelves of stuff,” he explained. “There might be mannequins or displays that you can scan with your phone and get items delivered to a checkout, or delivered to a fitting room where they’re waiting for you once you get there.”
Retailers are augmenting or retrofitting stores as they begin to recognize the changes in customer journeys. Krause said this isn’t just limited to looking up a retailer’s website before making an in-person visit but using technologies like augmented reality (AR) to see how a piece of furniture might look in their home, for example.
If those pre-visit experiences are creating an expectation the customer’s mind, what happens once they arrive on site becomes even more important, Krause said. For brands focused on value and low prices, a certain degree of congestion might be expected. For higher-end brands, however, shoppers might want more room to move.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. “If it feels cramped or uncomfortable, that will become part of your brand.”
Store associates also take up a certain amount of floor space, but Krause doesn’t see them going away. Instead, he suggested that there will be more ways in which shoppers engage with them digitally in the store and only call them over as needed.
Retailers also need to think about how they pave the way for other things that will become part of the experience during and after they visit the store, Krause added.
“The whole trend has been towards experience,” he said. “You’re going to see a show, you’re going to go out to eat, go to an axe throwing event. Most of those activities are on hold, but in the long run I still believe people are social, and they’re going to want to get out and do things and see things.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.