The re-opening of physical retail is an exhilarating prospect after a year of disruption, but it comes with some real challenges for many retailers.
Shoppers are not going to be the same as they were before all this happened. They are now too used to shopping online to give it up completely and that is going to feed through to how they use stores.
Many shoppers are also wary of returning to stores for health reason, wanting instead for stores to be as Covid-secure as they can be. This too is making retailers make changes.
Together, these changes are set to make what physical – and to some extent digital – retail look very different.
Already there are signs that things are shifting. Flying Tiger Copenhagen and MUJI have both become the first retailers in Europe to leverage Apple’s App Clips feature, whereby consumers can use special QR-like codes to open up a part of an app to shop. In this case it opens MishiPay’s shopping and payment app, allowing them to pay and go without having to do the physical checking out.
A Co-op franchise store in Southampton is looking at managing footfall by letting consumers who google certain items see a live stock up-date of whether the items are in stock in that store or not.
Monsoon, meanwhile, has spent the lockdown building a whole new flagship store, which is created around the retailer’s sustainability and ethical credentials – tapping into the growing consumer mood that they will only shop with brands that are clean, green and good to their people and communities.
Next, is trialling the opening of micro Homebase stores in six of its locations, as the home and DIY retailer looks at opening more, smaller format stores to tap into changing shopping habits.
These examples of how retailers are rethinking their physical outlets comes as how shoppers will now shop remains largely unknown. A study by MiQ finds that at least 50% of shoppers say that they are going to continue to buy apparel online even though stores are open.
These are just some examples of how retailers have come back ‘different’ – we are likely to see many more as the weeks and months go by.
But it isn’t all bad news and hard work for stores. Using technology – especially mobile – to help reshape how people shop gives them one huge new advantage: data. The acceleration of ecommerce that we have seen across the lockdown is now going to be seen in omni-channel retail, with many more stores now able to offer the kinds of mobile-based in-store tech that we have talked about for many months right now.
On the face of it, these technologies appear to give shoppers a better way to control their in-store experience and to glue channels together. This is true, but these technologies also bring retailers an rivalled insights into shoppers online and in-store behaviours – they get what Aaron Goldman, CMO, Mediaocean describes in his guest comment as ‘omni-data’.
This new level of insight into omni-channel behaviour is going to not only make retail safer in these threatening times, but also smarter and more personal. Change has been wrought across the industry, but more is still to come – perhaps even greater change now awaits as the true picture of what retail now looks like emerges.