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Day one after lockdown: strategies for bringing customers back to stores

Europe is slowly emerging from Covid-19 outbreak and reopening the business is top priority for all retail executives. Austria is the first European country to partially lift closures for nonessential goods as, per mid-April, stores with less than 400 square meters and hardware and gardening shops are allowed to reopen, subject to access restrictions.


Once the reopening is progressively allowed, retailers face the challenge of achieving pre-lockdown traffic -- which, in my opinion, is something impossible until there is a vaccine for Covid-19. And, although some weeks ago it was expected to see a V-shaped recovery once the confinement is over, it seems that consumption will bounce back slowly.


Moreover, the change in the buying habits during confinement will impact not only on store traffic but also on something more structural: the role of the store within the whole omnichannel experience.


The secret formula for reactivating stores


Given the current context, bringing customers back to stores will depend on their ability to:


1. Provide trust. Before the Covid-19, trust may primarily be linked to convenience, which was about product availability and fulfillment options. Nowadays, trust is, above all, about preventing the virus from reemerging.


In order to meet with customer trust, retailers must adopt some of the following initiatives:


  • Designing guidelines for staying safe, either for workers and customers

  • Securing store cleanliness, with dedicated teams and clear communication to customer

  • Investing in a touchless experience, implementing from contactless payments to curbside pickup, digital fitting rooms,…

  • Deploying permanent in-store health tracking technology, such as cameras, sensors,…


2. Deliver a memorable experience. Customers may have a reason to start going back to stores further beyond the simplistic fact of buying goods. Therefore retailers need to think about “shopping vs buying” dichotomy and find new ways to engage with customers.


Some ideas to create memorable in-store experiences would be:


  • Introducing the figure of the store ambassador, who may help making customers confident about the in-store experience

  • Launching store-exclusive limited-edition collaborations, to make customers eager to hunt for treasures

  • Performing in-store shows, by appointment to have store capacity under control, with topics that are relevant to customers


Conclusions


Covid-19 outbreak is definitely a catalyst for retail transformation, especially for the physical store channel. The traditional “store as warehouse”-centric business model is finally close to an end and it will be replaced to a value-driven, experiential store concept that plays a different role as part of a bigger, integrated omnichannel shopping experience.


In the short and mid-term, trust (and the way it is communicated) will be a matter of differentiation and competitiveness whilst investing in memorable experiences will be the key for the long term success not only for the physical channel but for the brand as a whole.

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