When UK high street retailers tentatively re-opened their doors a few week ago, consumers formed long queues as they waited, sometimes for hours, to enter stores. Early indications are that, following 12 weeks of lockdown, these shoppers relished the unique freedom of once again being able to visit a physical store.
Yet according to retail analysts Springboard, while the number of people visiting retail parks and shopping centres was up by 41.7% on the previous week, many shoppers remained wary of the new reality they were facing. Despite the fine weather, and the fact that it was the first day that non-essential shops had opened in almost three months, overall footfall was down just over a third compared to the same day a year ago.
To enable a sustained bounce-back, UK retailers will need to navigate a number of social distancing challenges to create the safe and frictionless shopping experiences that will reassure consumers from every demographic. And that’s where technology can help.
Online shopping appointments – a more personalised approach
For many high street retailers, taking a leaf from luxury retail and giving customers the opportunity to book online shopping appointments is the ideal way to get ‘up close and personal’ with customers who are less confident about venturing in-store.
With so many consumers eager for the elements of shopping that are difficult to replicate online – inspiration, discovery, curation, and a sense of community – video-based appointments make it possible for retailers to give customers the personalised one-to-one experiences they crave.
Today’s technologies enable retailers to offer just about any kind of online appointment service – demonstrations, consultations, beauty tutorials, personal shopping, gift selection and product recommendations – to customers in the comfort of their own home. In a world where social distancing looks set to become the norm, remote appointments represent an opportunity for retailers to turbo-boost their personalisation efforts and provide the frictionless and continuous service customers want and need.
Offering pre-arranged browser-based appointments, backed by customer profiles and analytics data that help staff conduct appointments that drive value and personalised service, doesn’t just build goodwill and loyalty. It increases average transaction value.
Virtual queues – keeping stores safer for all
Retailers can do more than just simply connecting digital customers with in-store staff or providing new virtual styling services and guidance and expertise for people purchasing certain products.
Today’s retailers can now choose from a wealth of technologies that will help to facilitate a safer shopping environment. Whether that’s providing customers with options to order online and pick-up in store, or at the curb-side, or giving them the opportunity to book in-store appointments.
Alongside making it easier for stores to manage in-store shopper volumes and avoid any overcrowding that could compromise social distancing, a pre-booked appointment strategy represents a highly effective tool for encouraging shoppers back into the physical store.
Retailers can win back shopper hearts and minds by offering a personalised and streamlined in-store experience that allays their fears of having to spend extra time in a crowded retail store. Pre-arranged slots eliminates the need to queue outside stores and makes it easy and convenient for shoppers to take care of business. Plus, with a dedicated shopping slot, customers will be assured that staff will be on hand to give them personal advice and help.
The future of shopping – an agile mindset will be required
In the coming months, retailers will need to put a variety of technologies to work to enable the adaptive operations that will be required to maintain shopper confidence. Social distancing isn’t going away any time soon, and the threat of future localised shutdowns means that retailers will need to leverage a wide range of capabilities to create the end-to-end shopping experiences that make it easy for shoppers to stay loyal.
From online appointments that generate revenue, whatever the current public health scenario, to digital appointment making and click-and-collect and other fulfilment options that make it easy for retailers to flex their in-store estates and manage fast-evolving social distancing and capacity limitations, keeping on top of the evolving expectations of consumers will be a must have.
Those retailers that seize on today’s technologies to cement customer relationships through the delivery of individualised services will be best positioned to reach targeted consumers more precisely and effectively – and deliver a better, safer high street shopping experience to consumers.
One thing is for sure, regaining consumer confidence and getting people back into store will be dependent on managing queueing and in-store capacity in such a way that social distancing requirements can be enforced, and essential cleaning undertaken.
Consumers won’t tolerate encountering in-store conditions that potentially put their personal safety at risk – and will quickly become disenchanted if they face long waits to make a payment or get the assistance they need. Retailers have just one chance to get it right first time – ultimately, thriving and surviving depends on delivering a superior quality experience that can be adapted at speed to fast-evolving realities.
John Federman, CEO of JRNI