How to Mitigate Risk on The High Street – Advice for UK Retailers

By John Federman, CEO of JRNI

As lockdown continues to ease, UK retailers are gradually getting back to business. But with government guidelines constantly in flux, retailers will need to adapt stores quickly to manage social distancing and implement other control measures across their business.

The threat of future lockdowns in response to localised virus outbreaks, means retailers will need to take a long view on how they enable the operational flexibility that will be needed to adapt to fast-changing conditions.

Retailers are being asked to calculate the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing rules in a store. Stores must limit customer numbers and address any potential congestion areas – including payment points, entrances and exits –implementing queue management.

They must also use signage and visual aids that provide clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene as well as taking responsibility for managing the queues of shoppers outside awaiting entry.

It’s a tall order to create safe in-store spaces for shoppers, but getting it right will be critical for ensuring anxious shoppers are re-assured, and long-term footfall and revenue recovery can be maintained.

To gain consumer confidence and get people back in store, retailers will have to take stringent precautions like providing a means to manage queuing, in-store capacity and foot traffic as well as undertaking frequent store cleanings, enforcing social distancing requirements and managing contactless options for purchase and pickup.

Decisions will also need to be made about how to handle fitting rooms, what happens to goods that shoppers handle, and how to cater for ‘at-risk’ customers. Where fitting rooms are no longer open, return policies will need to be extended, for example.

Solutions such as occupancy managers and using pre-booked appointments will give retailers the greater visibility and control. It will be vital to train teams so they can confidently enforce new protocols and support customers navigating the ‘new norms’ of shopping. Options such as curbside pick-up and online chat service will give some retailers an advantage and capture pent-up consumer demand.

Initiating out-of-hours in-store shopping appointments for premium customers is another way of providing a personalised and safe shopping experience that’s tailored to a customer’s individual needs. Booked online, customers can highlight the purpose of their shopping trip, identify which products they’d like to view on arrival in-store, or request staff provide curated recommendations on the day.

For shoppers preferring to remain in the safety of their homes, online video appointments offer all the benefits of a personal shopper experience. Combining the intimacy of an in-person meeting, with the opportunity to showcase specific products they represent a next-generation shopping experience that’s a powerful brand differentiator.

There’s a wealth of formats and options – everything from livestreamed events to product demonstrations and style consultations with the added benefit of data analytics to match recommendations to known customer preferences.

After months of social isolation, today’s consumers are tentatively returning to near normality. Retailers will need to demonstrate their commitment to creating safe shopping environments and ensure they have the appropriate procedures in place that will ensure a safe and frictionless shopping experience. Consumers will see the retailers making these changes, making their shopping experience easier, safer and more convenient. As the recovery begins old brand loyalties will fade away and new ones will be formed.

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