Be Relevant Now and in the Future

How retailers can adapt to the “new normal”
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Posted June 1, 2020

The retail matrix is experiencing a major change with the current global COVID-19 pandemic. Retail stores must demonstrate to their customers that they are evolving to be relevant for the “new normal” today, and also for the future by adopting circular sustainable methods through recycling, repurposing and reduce/reuse.

Be Relevant for the ‘New Normal’

A recent survey conducted by FRDC across shoppers in different age groups across India revealed that more than 50 percent people are willing to change their shopping habits and view safety as a prime determining factor at retail stores.

In addition to requiring personal safety practices such as hand sanitizers and masks, retail stores will need to transform their ecosystems to be perceived as safe places to win customers back. How do they smell, how clean do they look, how clean and sterilized are the products on shelves, how are dressing rooms being sanitized, and how they can offer a contactless customer journey at the store are all questions retailers must be able to answer.

People would like to touch the products but they cannot, so that’s a dilemma we all must solve for.

We need to build assurance with customers by utilizing antimicrobial surfaces, skin-friendly disinfectants and sterilized air and sanitized air conditioning.

We should glean relevant lessons  from our recent past and traditions across cultures. Back in the day, absence of advanced modern science, technology and manufacturing made people adapt and adopt materials and methods which stood the test of time and passed through generations.

In India, we grew up in the 70s seeing the common use of materials such as brass, bronze, copper and cast Iron utensils in the kitchen as well as dinnerware. Because it is naturally antifungal and antimicrobial, copper is being brought back into water filters now. Cultures thousands of years ago knew about the benefits of these natural materials. There is a need to rediscover ancient practices and bridge them with modern use. This could create a culture-rich retail environment too.

Global warming and its impact on the climate have brought us closer in contact with natural disasters, the frequency of which have increased in past decade. The other big destructive phenomenon being man’s encroachment on forest and barren lands. Nature’s perfect balance of “creation and destruction” (a core belief in Hindu philosophy) has been broken as we create more and destroy less.

As one of the important primary social transactions for people, retail can take the lead and become an eco-conscious industry. What is relevant today for people and for the earth will be most relevant in future for all of us.

The phenomenon of buying less, buying better or longer lasting and buying local will increase among customers. This could mimic in-store builds and interiors too, where brands can effectively reduce the use and discard of non-recyclable material with every new store or renovation. It’s time for designers and architects to insist the use of sustainable materials.

What’s more, we can also reduce the carbon footprint by promoting the use of locally sourced material. This also has a dual benefit, as these materials are best suited for local climatic conditions, and are in turn more durable than imported alternatives. Utilizing local craftsmanship to work on these materials is also a plus in strengthening local economy while providing livelihood for many local craftsmen. Stores can take the “less is more” approach by reducing elaborate interior elements, where excess of surfaces can give way to simplicity in form and materials that help create a fresh and clean environment.

Breathing new life into old, repurposed materials can be used increasingly in stores, from fixtures and fittings to mannequins, displays and shop presentations, playing a major role in the circular design for sustainability. This means retail solution providers also have to make it a priority to make available workable repurposed materials and products.

Emotion is at its peak in the human race today. Never before has it been more important for retailers to emotionally connect with their customers. Brands can build a stronger, deeper connection through sustainability in retail by showing that they care.

Architect and retail designer Sanjay Agarwal has been associated with the Indian Retail industry since 1997. Agarwal is an alumni of CEPT, Domus Academy, Milan and a fellow at CSIS, Penn University. His wide network with international design fraternity, and experience in retail design strategy and projects, led him to co-found FRDC in 2007. The award-winning design agency has now grown to become a recognized global retail brand strategy and design firm with works in India and abroad.

FRDC with its emphasis on research-led and human-centered design has built its reputation by assisting retailers and brands in realizing their full potential through a unique and compelling customer experience with cultural context. FRDC works internationally in strategic partnership with JGA, with responsibilities that include client liaison and project strategy.