Rethinking retail in a post-COVID world

As retail reopens, ingenuity and innovation are key

17 Aug 2020

After almost seven weeks of severely curtailed trading during March and April in NZ this year and further restrictions in August with a second lockdown in New Zealand's biggest city, retailers are hoping things can start to get back to a "new" normal. The sector has been seriously affected, with retail spending dropping by over half during the first nationwide lockdown. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom for retailers. Adapting to new rules and restrictions may be stressful at first, but it also offers a chance to innovate, make bold changes, and offer customers more options. Post-pandemic, the retailers who rise to the challenge will be in the best position to bounce back. 

That’s why retailers need to get past old, standard ways of doing business. New rules and restrictions could be around for a while, so it’s time to get creative. With a bit of innovation and ingenuity, supported by the right tech solutions, retailers will be able to offer more and keep customers coming back - in level two and beyond. 

 
Changing the in-store experience 

In-person shopping is coming back, but it will look a bit different for some time. Retailers may need to invest in technology to track the number of people in a store at any one time and they have to manage a virtual or physical register of names and contact details for contact tracing. 

Hygiene is also going to be important to reduce the chance of infection, and to reassure customers that it’s safe to shop with you. That could mean shop assistants wearing masks and gloves, having hand sanitiser available for customers, and cleaning high-touch surfaces frequently. Clothing retailers may need to steam or sanitise clothing that has been tried on before other customers can try it. 

Some retailers may even decide to have customers pre-book shopping sessions, rather than letting people wander in from the street. 

More online than ever 

Online sales are not new – most retailers were online well before the pandemic hit. But, because online shopping will likely represent a larger proportion of retail sales going forward, retailers must streamline their online sales options. If you’re a retailer with a clunky or outdated website, it’s smart to start thinking about an upgrade. 

With fewer customers visiting physical stores, retailers may choose to turn some stores into online distribution centres temporarily. Staff would be retained to pick and pack products, and customers could choose from a range of distribution options – delivery, click and collect, or even drive-through pick-up.

More options for online shopping 

Online shopping is convenient, but it doesn’t work for every person or every product. Clothing, in particular, is difficult to buy online. People like to try on different sizes, touch fabrics and inspect the quality of the sewing. 

Rather than sticking to a straightforward buy-and-deliver model, retailers will need to offer more innovative ways of buying online – especially for clothing. 

This could mean:
 • Free returns: encourage customers to buy a few sizes or a few different items, try them on at home, then return unwanted items for free. 
 • Trying on at home: apparel orders could be delivered to customers’ doors for them to try before the sales are finalised. Unwanted items are returned to the store. 
 • Curated style services: customers fill in a form with their measurements and complete a quiz about their style preferences. The store makes up a couple of outfits or clothing combinations for each and delivers them. Customers keep what they like and return the rest. 

Using staff skills in new ways 

Retail staff have great customer service skills that will be under-utilised if customers aren’t visiting stores. Finding ways to use these skills virtually could help retailers reach more customers and increase sales.

For clothing retailers, online style sessions using video calls or chat services could help deliver a more personal experience. Staff could even try on clothing or shoes to show customers how items look without them having to visit the store. 

Social media can help as well – live streams or videos of staff modelling outfits, doing virtual walk-throughs of your store, using Instagram to promote new items as they come in – there’s a whole range of ways to use social media to reach customers. 

High-tech home shopping

With the right technology, it’s possible to recreate the retail experience at home – almost. Using photos and 3D technology, retailers can give customers a realistic idea of what an item of clothing or piece of furniture will look like, making it more likely for them to buy. 

With virtual fitting rooms, customers upload a photo and their measurements, then click to see how different items of clothing will look on their bodies. Although it can’t simulate the feel of the clothing, it can give shoppers an idea of length and cut and show them how the colour of an item will look against their skin tone. 

Similarly, virtual design software lets customers upload a photo of their lounge or kitchen to get a 3D view of furniture, paint colours, or décor in their home. In some ways, this option can actually be more useful than in-person shopping, as furniture can look quite different in-store and at home.

Keep up – or lose out 

Retailers, like everyone else, are facing a difficult path forward. Rules and restrictions, as well as an imminent recession, will mean lower revenue and higher costs for at least the next few months. But that doesn’t mean they should give up. 

By using technology and innovation to make shopping easier and more enjoyable for customers, retailers can claw back some of the revenue they have lost over the past months. And when COVID-19 is finally behind us, having a range of high-tech options in place will let them get out in front of the retail pack. 

Looking to upgrade the retail experience for your customers? Talk to the Solutionists team now. 

author:

Solutionists

date published:

17 Aug 2020