In-store Retail Experience in 2021 and Beyond

Despite the obvious challenges the pandemic has introduced, opportunities for retailers are emerging
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Posted January 25, 2021

Since the current norm we find ourselves in will continue at least through the first quarter of 2021, most likely nothing will emerge in retail environments until the spring. Let’s call it the “spring awakening.”

There will be built-up anticipation of getting out and back into stores, but retailers must realize there has been some resetting of the playing field, changes in behaviors and the emergence of new priorities. This creates new opportunities to reset customers' perceptions and even force reconsideration as shoppers emerge from lockdown. On the flip side, new challenges for retailers arise from ensuring a sense of confidence to adapting to the new methods of engagement that have arisen during the last 10 months.

Come spring, shoppers can be divided into three categories: “Keeners,” those eager, excited, and ready to get back into the retail environment; “Fencers,” ready and wanting to re-engage but still holding concerns and apprehensions; and “Nevers,” those who are completely comfortable using online and remote channels exclusively.

Retailers should focus on the first two, Keeners and Fencers. While addressing some common table stakes – like store hygiene and in-store density – I think there are some unique levers for each:

Keeners: For these shoppers, it will be important to ensure the brand experience is forefront. Keeners are looking at the social side of shopping and want to re-engage. This means creating immersive (but safe) experiences like:

  • Renting out the store to customers and their cohorts for a period of time, creating an elevated, personalized experience. [AMC is doing this with its theaters.]
  • Making loyalty a key to entry with invitation-only shopping times that control store density and allow for a more catered engagement [Museums are doing this to control crowds.]
  • Making it special with in-store-only experiences linked to online events. Start the story at home and finish it in the store [Schools are trying this, albeit with varying success.]
  • Taking it outside to create a brand experience. Use the outdoors, under tents or beneath the stars. It can be a real wow. [Restaurants across the country have done this.]
  • Reaching out with an invitation to encourage customers back. Send special invitations to your most loyal customers, and more broadly, to target customers.
  • Providing new in-stores services from specific customer service, concierge or even stylistic advice in real-time. [Zoom has made us all comfortable talking to screens.]

Fencers: It will be important to assure, but excite, these shoppers. If they feel safe, they will relax and open up to enjoy their experience. First look to:

  • Making touchless a norm – from opening the door to merchandising to purchasing. Use technology, storytelling and visual merchandising to “sell” the product. [Airlines are rapidly expediting the contactless experience.]
  • Shifting from the host who joyfully greets you to the hygienist who is visibly at work keeping the environment clean and safe.
  • Booking appointments and scheduling in-store dressing room time to empower shoppers and incentivizing shoppers to avoid peak times.

Pandemic paralysis has only accelerated the new economy that was already in the making – challenging norms around live, work, and play. Gone is retail as we knew it. Going forward, retail storefronts won’t disappear, but will no longer be the pillar of their brand. Retailers must understand, develop and create multifaceted experiences that are hyper-customer-centric. A blend of assurance, ease and personalization will create the pact for engagement, delight and a lasting relationship that will pay off.

A big picture creative thinker with expansive knowledge of consumer behaviors across industries, Randall Stone is the founder and principal of ә*māz a brand experience studio for entertainment, hospitality, retail, travel and lifestyle brands of all sizes. Randall has created, defined and reestablished brands through compelling and amazingly memorable brand expressions and customer experiences.