Pick up a paper or scan the business news online, and you’ll find that we appear to have moved from the progress being made across countries and continents by COVID-19 to how quickly retailers are getting back to “normal,” whatever this might mean.
And it is on this topic that there appears to be a very large amount of divergence. At one extreme, normal means the beepers issued to those who want to take a look around Santa Maria del Fiore (aka Florence cathedral) in the heart of the Tuscan capital. Here visitors are given a lanyard as they enter the building bearing a device which beeps if the visitor gets nearer than two meters (6.4 feet) to anybody else.
This may sound a bit much, but from an individual’s perspective it’s probably a whole lot easier than trying to work out if you’re infringing upon the enlarged personal space of somebody else. It might also actually be cheaper than putting those bits of tape on the floor that you see in stores to indicate what two meters looks like and then having store associates vainly attempting to enforce the required social distancing while keeping distance themselves.
This does, of course, mean putting the onus for distancing on the customer, but faced with an alarm that others will notice it seems likely that it should be effective. Social distance shaming is a reality.
There is also the matter of what happens at the checkout. In the first iterations of protecting staff from shoppers, cashiers were encased in what looked uncannily like an oxygen tent. Now things have moved on and transparent screens have a more permanent feel about them that says that we’re in this for the long(er) game. These do actually vary from retailer to retailer, but it’s fair to say that we’ve come a considerable distance in a short time.
So what next? The answer is that nobody knows, but refinement of what’s already out there seems the probable direction of travel, and how quickly the protective installations are dispensed with will depend on the prayed for disappearance of C-19. Even when it’s gone we’ll be wary, so whatever you see out there now really is the “new norm.”
It’s a long road ahead, but we are making progress. For retailers and shoppers, the message must be to be patient, this all about getting through it.
John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.