Reopening Retail: The Role of Stores and Innovations

by | 10 June 2020

As states unfold their reopening strategies, many are lifting restrictions to non-essential retail goods with directives. Retailers are proactively stepping toward building a business resilience that strategically activates to align with those directives from city, county, and state guidelines to keep consumers and their employees safe.

The recurring opinion from experts, including the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and the National Retail Federation (NRF), as well as individual property management advisors, is implementing a “leading by example” principle. The principle applies forward-thinking strategies across communications, new technologies and omnichannel innovations in an approach to the reopening of retail.

Sending the Right Message

The distribution of clear and concise communications to inform customers of changes in store practices is a must. A recent study conducted by financial services firm Cowen reported that consumers almost evenly split on whether they’ll feel safe about returning to retail. Statistics vary by state, but for the most part, customers are hesitant about wearing masks in public or following social distancing protocol. Alexander Bazley, Associate Director of Retail at Colliers suggests promoting a “culture of safety” by blanketing properties with cheerful, encouraging signage and decals to remove the negative stigma. Bazley also advises working with local authorities to allow for temporary signage — i.e., A-frames, temporary billboards and other creative visuals —in public spaces to maintain a consistent presence with health and safety messages.

“Properties should be regularly communicating the latest safety tips from government agencies (CDC, OSHA), as well as state and local health agencies to ensure tenants understand the seriousness of the situation,” shares Bazley. Creating open lines of communication between stakeholders will make it easier to expedite corrective measures should something arise.

The Role of New Technologies and Omnichannel Innovations

Let There Be Light

Contact-free solutions are top of mind for commerce. On the front end, businesses are exploring several hygiene-centric technologies to create a safer shopping environment to deliver their products or services to consumers. There are several firms in-market that aim to provide tools to help maintain a physically clean environment.

NanoSeptic self-cleaning mats and skins are a sanitized alternative to sterilizing door handles, counter mats and elevator buttons. Powered by light, NanoSeptic surfaces use mineral nano-crystals that create an oxidation reaction stronger than bleach. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in partnership with Columbia University, has launched a pilot program using ultraviolet lights to disinfect its subway cars. The dual-headed lamps manufactured by Puro Lighting, emit a UVC ray that kills organic material related to viral diseases.

3D LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technologies capture real-time three-dimensional views of a location’s layout. Quanergy’s Flow Management Platform tracks people’s flow in real-time within retail locations, airports, etc. to analyze and manage social distancing protocols. Tim Heffernan, an adviser for The Indoor Lab, spoke at ICSC’s Reopening for Retail and Real Estate webinar about their SafeSpace platform, which uses 3D LIDAR to identify and detect sanitation areas using its proprietary Wipe Away technology.

The Mobile Concierge

The most apparent contact-free solution supports payment. The convenience of mobile payment solutions to facilitate transactions was well underway before the pandemic. According to an April consumer survey by Mastercard, 8 in 10 consumers are using contactless methods due to safety and cleanliness concerns and75% of consumers say they will continue to use contactless post-pandemic.

Contactless payment options provide a safe and sanitized option for completing purchases and offer an opportunity for brands to incentivize and retarget consumers in a mobile environment where they spend most of their time. “If it wasn’t true before, it’s true now — everyone is on his or her phones — all the time,” shares Bazley. “Now is the time for retailers, landlords and property managers to activate or boost engagement online, and through mobile platforms, to market their properties and promote tenants that are reopening.”

Curbside Collection

Target and Walmart launched curbside collection programs to offer a safer, and sometimes quicker, alternative to home delivery. Think of it as a BOPIS (Buy Online Purchase In-Store) program with advanced features: Consumers order supplies and groceries online or through a mobile app. Once they receive a confirmation for pickup, they park in a designated area near the retailer where a store associate will load purchases directly into their trunk.

Shopping centers are implementing best practices including curbside signage in key locations to direct consumer vehicles. In addition to lobbying the city for special curbside parking along La Brea Avenue for Best Buy and Courtyard, some centers have A-frames along Santa Monica Boulevard directing consumers to delivery and pickup loading zones.

Personal Shopping

As businesses schedule to reopen, one emerging trend is creating a personalized one on one shopping experience. The Michigan Retail Association instituted a first-of-its-kind appointment-based strategy for all non-essential retailers to maintain occupancy levels of 10 customers (or less). Best Buy has also launched a personal shopping service requiring customers to schedule appointments with a sales associate before their arrival. David’s Bridal and Suit Supply already offer virtual appointment experiences, and they will likely add in-store options upon revisiting store layout designs.

Another unique personal touch comes from Sephora in Disney Springs. While all their employees are wearing masks, they also have a button on their shirt with a picture of them smiling, mask-free. Dare you not to smile when seeing this.

Positioning Retail for the Future

“Our focus on customer safety allows us to provide the community with the goods and services they need, more now than ever. Supporting omnichannel distribution — delivery, online pickup and curbside delivery, will help CRE retail match the gains of Amazon and other predominantly-online retailers, positioning us for the future,” concludes Bazley.

The retail marketplace is the heart of every community and has been for millennia. The approaches we take now to increase customer safety and access will have long-term benefits well after the pandemic is a distant memory.

About the Author:

Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape … driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!