Reinventing physical retail environments amidst the ‘new norm’

Tom Brialey
Founder and Director | Action Storage
18th November 2020

The retail world more so than most other industries will be forever changed by the effects of the ongoing pandemic, as stores have been forced to close and shoppers switched to buying goods online.

Since the first lockdown ended, many retail stores reopened their doors to begin the recovery process. But a second wave in the UK with tightened restrictions already coming into effect, has meant stores are forced to close again or at least take further measures to ensure safety best practice when servicing their customers in the months and years to come.

In light of this, today we’ll be exploring the potential long-term considerations retailers may need to factor in to reinvent physical retail environments amidst the ‘new norm’ and beyond.

Review your entire store layout

With the pandemic still ongoing, social distancing is likely to stay in place for some time. However, since lockdown 1 restrictions were relaxed, more people haven’t been returning to shop in store. Naturally this has already meant reinventing the space to ensure customers and staff can maintain the 2 metre distancing rule while in store.

An obvious solution here is to redesign the store layout to accommodate wider aisles, providing more space to navigate through the store without close contact to others. In turn, wider aisles can allow you to reduce inventory on shelves, allowing customers better visibility and accessibility to pick out the items they want quickly and efficiently.

Reducing stock on the shop floor can solve one problem, but in turn can create another: with less inventory on display on the shop floor, there’s more demand for stockroom storage. This is why it’s essential to consider the entire set up of your retail premises to include storage areas as well as the shop floor, as each area is interlinked. By taking a holistic approach to optimising your store, you can find more effective solutions that work for both arms of the business such as installing taller, versatile retail shelving units both in store and in the stockroom to help offset the stock reallocation.

For those looking for a more progressive approach, taking the lead from beauty brands like Boots, could help to future proof in store shopping experiences. Boots and other beauty brands like Superdrug, are rethinking their shop layouts entirely in flagship stores, introducing new trending zones, discovery areas and live demonstrations to replace traditional beauty counters. The new store designs look to put emphasis on key health and safety factors like social distancing and increased hygiene, while simultaneously bolstering customer shopping experience in store with a more personalised service.

This model doesn’t have to be limited to beauty brands. Carving out personalised, hygiene-focused store designs could in fact, pave the way for the future of retail amidst the new norm and life after the pandemic.

Assess your exit and entry points

For many shoppers, social distancing has already become a normal part of daily life, and attitudes towards close contact with others is likely to continue well into next year, so incorporating long-term changes could be a more cost-effective and less disruptive option.

This means, in light of recent spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country, physical retail stores need to also look beyond their in-store layout to help manage traffic flow and reassure consumers - considering additional measures that limit how many people enter the store at one time.

In smaller stores this may be easier to manage by introducing a one-in-one out system at the door using signage, as well as reviewing the outside area of your store to ensure people can wait safely outside with minimal contact with others.

Another option that may be more suitable for larger stores is to introduce separate entry and exit systems as a way to manage footfall, minimising crossover between customers at these often congested areas.

Bolster any entry and exit protocols you introduce with floor markings to create a one-way system that guides consumers safely through the store with minimal disruption to their shopping experience. As a by-product, this can also help to reduce congestion during peak times.

Whichever measures you bring into your store, be sure to clearly communicate them to shoppers with visible signage and floor markings. This will help to ensure they adhere to them, as well as reassure them you’re taking the right steps to keep them safe.

Redesign point of sale (POS) areas

Optimising sale points within your store is yet another essential safety consideration amidst 2020’s ‘new norm’ and for the foreseeable future. Despite limiting customer numbers in store, till points are still going to be prime areas for congestion, posing more risk of close contact between shoppers.

To counteract potential congestion in POS areas, look to create clearly distinguishable, wider areas for queuing - this will help customers naturally social distance, even during busy times.

Many retailers are also making the shift towards installing contactless pay points and self-checkout counters that limit the amount of contact with high touch point surfaces. If you haven’t already, it could also be worthwhile considering installing perspex glass screens at till points that help to protect both shoppers and staff.

It also goes without saying that streamlining the whole checkout process will be key to minimising the amount of time people are gathered at till points. From upgrading payment software systems to introducing separate zones for handling customer returns, informational queries and click and collect orders, taking appropriate action to guide shoppers through the payment process quickly is key from both a safety and shopping experience perspective.

Introduce more rigorous hygiene measures

As we all know, promoting good personal hygiene has been a trademark since the COVID-19 outbreak and isn’t likely to be going away any time soon. For physical retailers, this means ensuring you’re encouraging best practice with cleanliness for both staff and consumers at all times.

This should entail at least one daily deep clean of the entire premises (including stockrooms) per day, as well as frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces throughout the day. You can also encourage good hand hygiene by providing hand sanitiser units at entry and exit points, till areas and other key areas of the store where consumers may gather, as well as staff and public bathrooms.

With many areas on the brink of tightened restrictions and full lockdown, taking stringent measures to maintain good hygiene in physical stores now is essential and should continue once the country comes out the other side of the pandemic, too. By getting your store ready now you can help create a versatile store design that can adapt to whatever changes are afoot. Particularly as the past few months have shown how rapidly things can change as restrictions were eased.

There’s still a great deal of uncertainty with the ongoing pandemic and the landscape of retail is likely to be changed forever. However, with the right safety precautions in place that promote long-term social distancing and high standards of cleaning, you should have the right elements to reassure shoppers that you’re doing everything possible to protect them during these unprecedented times.

Author bio:

Tom Brialey is the Founder and Director of Action Storage, which adopts his philosophy that, in addition to the highest quality products, you must also provide the highest standard of service to your customers in order to succeed. That’s why it’s Tom’s mission to provide expert support 100% of the way.

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