The pandemic has changed the in-store experience, possibly forever. After spending months with home delivery and curbside pickup as the norm, shoppers have developed a greater taste for convenience than ever before, which in turn has changed how retailers need to look at their stores. Omnichannel is no longer just about connecting digital and physical offerings but about removing friction from the entire operation, from the warehouse to the front of the store.
Meeting the requirements of modern shoppers requires retailers to rethink both the layouts of their stores and the technology being used inside. Everything from the stockroom to the POS needs to be seamlessly aligned for the benefit of both associates and customers. While this can seem like an overwhelming challenge, the most important aspects of good store design can be condensed into four broad imperatives.
Imperative 1: Design the Entire Store with Order Pickup in Mind
Curbside pickup, BOPIS and other omnichannel offerings are now the baseline, so retailers must encourage traffic flows that enable both order fulfillment and in-store browsing without them interfering with one another.
Curbside in particular is sparking a store experience transformation. Parking lots and store exteriors need to be designed to minimize the distance between associates and waiting curbside customers — without feeling unsafe for foot traffic.
“Retailers can redesign stores to make them more efficient for pickup, such as locating pickup counters near the entrance,” said John Harmon, Senior Analyst at Coresight Research in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “They can also offer dedicated parking spots located near the front door or pickup counter, in addition to curbside pickup. Store layout can also be optimized to accommodate both pickers and shoppers.”
Imperative 2: Connect Consumers to the Store via Digital Experiences
The modern store extends past its physical boundaries, particularly when serving the needs of safety-conscious shoppers. Look to AR tools, livestreaming and social selling to bring the experience to the next level.
“While AR should continue to be advanced, apparel can also learn from beauty and some of the tech they’ve leveraged, such as livestreaming,” said Katie Thomas, leader of the Kearney Consumer Institute. “Brand ambassadors demonstrating how a product fits, moves and feels can provide an interim benefit while fitting room tech is further developed.”
Thomas noted that another big area to watch is virtual appointments, which were largely adopted amid store shutdowns but have since become core to some brands’ ecommerce experiences.
Imperative 3: Balance Safety and Immersive Experiences
While many post-pandemic store design strategies are aimed at getting shoppers in and out as quickly as possible, retailers can’t afford to neglect the importance of letting shoppers take their time and browse. Even a simple grocery store trip can be a relaxing experience for many people, so retailers need to make sure their friction-busting efforts aren’t making shoppers who are looking for a more traditional trip feel rushed.
“Not all 20 minutes are created equal, and while consumers hate to wait in line, many people like to browse — which, despite the desire to get in and out of a store, is still a better experience in-store rather than 20 pages of shoes on a screen,” said Thomas. “Experiential retailing can automate processes that don’t add value to the consumer, complementing a highly engaging brand experience.”
Imperative 4: Always Focus on Delivering Fantastic Customer Service
There is one universal ingredient in a good customer experience: the associate. Even the best technology in the world can be enhanced by friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic employees. Whether it’s helping a first-timer handle self-checkout or troubleshooting a problem with a loyalty app, associates are the heart of the store.
As a result, retailers need to ensure that all the technologies and new store features they implement serve and empower associates to do their jobs better.
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