An old new normal? post-covid stores in digitally averse countries

What’s happening in Phase-2 countries where stores are already re-opening?

“Will customers queue up to enter a department store? Will they want to pop into a clothing store if they can’t try stuff on? Will they accept less choice on shelves as retailers make space for social distancing measures? If they have picked up a book off the shelf, will they remember to then place it on the special quarantine cart?”.

These legitimate questions can be found in Natalie Berg’s newest article for Forbes: When Non-Essential Stores Reopen, Will Shoppers Accept The Friction? The Retail specialist and author writes that the pandemic will “accelerate a lot of the trends that were already in motion – addressing the oversupply of stores; convergence of physical and digital retail; a weeding out of those mediocre, mid-market players (if they weren’t relevant then, they’re definitely not now); and more mindful spending”.

Among the most valued post-covid solutions she summons:

  • cashier-less stores
  • same-day click & collect
  • connect digital customers with in-store staff
  • more generous returns policies
  • a new wave of sizing technology
  • ensuring that shoppers understand, and possibly even witness, cleaning and safety measures taking place in-store

Another interesting research in the post-pandemic Retail scenario come from StoreIs: “L’evoluzione dell’Omnichannel Retail. Dati, strategie e best practice post Covid-19”. It recommends bringing online the store experience and, conversely, valorizing stores through the online channel. Some of the suggested improvements for the New Normal retail are:

  • personal shoppers that may be reached online or through social
  • a better digitization of the online catalogue
  • an extension of customer service coverage
  • virtual tours, store locators and visit-on-appointment
  • pick & pay and buy online return-in-store options

But what’s happening in Phase-2 countries where stores are already re-opening? In Italy, the third nation in the World for number of Covid-related causalities (after the UK and USA), when IKEA’s Corsico superstore re-opened on 18th May, people were already in line, outside, one hour before the doors opened. During the morning the line was so long that it took an average two hours to get in. Social distancing was unmanageable and clerks had to distribute masks, sanitizing gel and bottles of water to the crowd. So much for the 2 millions of new online shoppers brought by the lockdown.

If this is a symptom we could say that in traditionally digitally-averse countries, such as the Mediterranean ones, Retail will go back to normal even sooner than it’s advisable. The hamletic question “what should retailers do to remain relevant in the post-covid World?” then becomes “should retailers do something for a post-covid World?”. And then: “will retailers do something to adapt to the post-covid World?”.

The first question has already been answered by Berg and by the StoreIs research. To the second question I’d answer: yes, they should, even if foot traffic goes back to normal. When life will perceivably go back to normal, unconscious fears will still be nesting in our brains for a long time and this kind of attention is not only the right thing to do, it’s also a powerful trust and fidelization tool (if you don’t do it because you’re good at least do it for money).

The answer for the third question is: many of them won’t. It’s very true to say that the virus has been more brutal with already suffering retailers. They were already disconnected from the present and they will keep closing, maybe at a slower rate, but anyway.

What we should fear about the New Normal is that it could look too much like the Old.

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