With the impact of the pandemic expected to last for years, retailers and shoppers will be adjusting to changes long after COVID-19 has been contained.
Like most everything in today’s world, shopping has completely changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Stepping into a store is drastically different now than it was 6 months ago. And with the impact of the pandemic expected to last for years, retailers and shoppers will be adjusting to changes long after COVID-19 has been contained.
Aside from the actual shopping experience, physical retail stores of the future will be altered by the pandemic. Here are 10 changes we’ll see to existing and new retail spaces in a post-COVID-19 world.
By now, most stores have implemented social distancing with marks on the ground to keep customers six feet away from each other as they wait in line. Future retail spaces could make distancing markers more permanent with different colored carpet to mark where each customer should stand or different types of flooring to indicate waiting areas and set groups of people apart.
Most retail stores are currently designed to encourage customers to go deeper into the store and spend more time browsing. But in the future, stores will change their product placement to facilitate faster, more streamlined trips. Customers want to get in and out quickly, and brands want to discourage customers from touching items they don’t purchase. Many Target stores have already shifted to this model with two entrances: one for quick grab-and-go items and the other entrance and side of the store for browsable items and a more leisurely shopping experience.
After months of being at home, consumers are understandably anxious to return to physical stores. In the future, more brands will adopt soft lighting and shades of blues and greens in their signage and décor to create a more calming atmosphere. Customers might not even realize the changes but will hopefully feel less anxious when they step in the store.
The Amazon Go model of cashier-less shopping got a boost due to the pandemic, and more stores are likely to implement the technology in the future. Autonomous stores keep customers and employees safer on a number of levels—from only touching items that a customer intends to purchase to not having to interact with traditional high-touch areas like card readers and checkout lines.
Recent months have seen an explosion of BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) orders. Some retailers, including grocers, were already prepared for the change, while others had to quickly modify to add curbside pickup areas and signage. In the future, drive-throughs will be better integrated into physical stores with clear procedures and technology to deliver items without customers leaving their cars.
As e-commerce continues to grow, physical stores don’t require as much space. Some retailers are turning parts of their stores into fulfillment centers, but those that will continue as traditional stores won’t need as much space. Smaller square footage can also help brands cut costs during economic uncertainty.
Some of the biggest changes to physical spaces may not be as obvious to customers but will happen with improved filtration and HVAC systems. Visible filtration systems offer a transparent look at a store’s approach to cleanliness, and updated HVAC systems can increase humidity and potentially lessen the spread of germs.
In many places around the world, regulations keep large groups of people from congregating. And those who can gather are still often anxious to be inside with large groups of people. Outdoor retail spaces, such as walking malls, will see an uptick in the future. These spaces provide the best of both worlds—more space outside to allow customers to spread out, but still access to multiple stores and items.
Many retailers were already shifting to more experiential showrooms instead of traditional stores, and the pandemic has only magnified the need to change. Retailers will follow the lead of Ikea with separate showrooms that allow customers to see the products in a space before picking out exactly what they need or ordering it online. Showrooms bridge the gap between physical and e-commerce shopping.
Stores are focused on protecting not only their customers, but also their employees. Many stores have already implemented plexiglass dividers between cashiers and customers, and that will likely continue in the future. Stores will find creative ways to build physical barriers between people without hurting the personal contact and service that happens in stores.
The retail world has been permanently changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Like all areas of retail, physical stores will need to adapt and evolve to keep customers coming back.
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