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Designed to (Re)open

A look at what a post-coronavirus retail store might look like.

Stepping into a store these days can sometimes feel… strange. You might see shower curtains tacked-up as divider panels, check-out lines weaving clumsily through aisles, social distancing queues wrapping around buildings, and curbside pick-up with merchandise literally sitting on the curb. While the quick fixes we’re seeing today can sometimes feel haphazard, they are a necessary part of the real-time, trial-and-error problem-solving process that is retail design. In fact, if we take a closer look at some of the solutions these early attempts are leading to, they can tell us a lot about the post COVID-19 consumer mindset—and how retail might evolve as stores and shopping are reimagined for the future.

Pre-Shop Homework
With the pandemic accelerating a trend already underway, even more of the shopping experience is going to happen before the actual in-store visit. Real-time inventory tracking, enabled by things like smart shelves and Google Shopping, will minimize the risk of unnecessary trips in search of out-of-stock items. Density forecasting apps will encourage checking in to see when the store has the shortest lines and smallest crowds. And for less automated purchases that might require a little more research? Appointment-making will be the new way to explore showrooms for those craving in-person human interaction—socially distanced, of course.

Mixed Realities
To minimize contact in stores, retailers will lean more heavily on digital solutions, relying on Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) to immerse shoppers in their brands. AR clues visible on shoppers’ own mobile devices can help build a sense of wonder and discovery in-store, and MR can take shoppers deeper into virtual brand worlds—with opportunities for enriching the experience further through gamification.

Browsing and Discovery
To limit contact with product displays and, more importantly, store staff, touchless browsing and virtual calls with associates will be the new way forward. AR-enabled products will provide shoppers all the information they need on the spot, on their devices, such as Glossier’s Live Edit service, a digital, limited-slot program offering shoppers real-time beauty consultations with brand team representatives. Voice automation will provide personalized directions to products in store. And window shopping will take on a new meaning with price points and available inventory shown right next to the merchandise on display.

Source: @Glossier on Instagram
Source: @Glossier on Instagram

Gone are the days of waiting in lines to have a cashier touch each item that will soon be brought into the home. Instead, digital queuing will let customers hold a spot in a virtual line or the line will be rendered obsolete by QR code-enabled products and shopping carts that let customers make their purchase from anywhere in store. And let’s not forget biometrics—by now, many of us have experienced AmazonGo, a checkout-free store with technology that detects when products are taken from or returned to store shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. And then, no waiting in line; you simply leave with your goods, to be charged and sent a receipt digitally.

Unlimited Fulfillment Options
Even as stores reopen, shoppers’ varying comfort with entering buildings means retailers will continue to offer alternatives begun during the early weeks of the pandemic. Curbside pickup surged 208% between April 1 and April 20 compared with a year ago, with some retailers placing orders directly into vehicle trunks or adding pick-up windows to storefronts. Looking ahead, lockers will become commonplace, with some digital versions self-sanitizing. Stores may start to look more like distribution centers, adapting new curbside-only formats to efficiently meet customers’ quick and contactless pickup needs.

Source: CNBC

None of these will feel entirely new. In some ways, this pandemic has created opportunity within the retail landscape by acting as an innovation accelerant. While many of these trends were pre-pandemic “nice-to-haves,” they have now become necessities. Pay attention as these quick-fix solutions evolve into cutting-edge, integrated new store design.

Want to see for yourself? Check out this next generation store concept by Rehab to see some of these concepts in action (watch from beginning until 1:30).

As consumers continue to worry about continuing waves of the coronavirus, now is the time for retailers to consider these trends and tactics and look for ways to fold them into their operations. The winners—those who do it authentically, at the right level—will retain and grow their customer base while cementing their reputation as caring, cutting-edge retailers.

August 25, 2020