Preparing to be prepared

By Sandra Perriot, Strategy Director – Retail & Experience, Cheil

‘Unprecedented’ has become the buzz-word of 2020, but in all honesty, it’s hard to find another word that describes the situation that we’ve all found ourselves in. No one could have fully prepared for what Covid-19 has thrown at us – but they say necessity is the Mother of Invention, and consequently many businesses have found innovative solutions to deal with the fall out, whether that be in holding work meetings via Zoom or, in the case of retailers, by using baskets to create make-shift queuing systems or ensuring that contactless payments are now the standard. While we’ve learnt to make-do and adjust to the current ‘new normal’, one thing to take away from the situation is to be more prepared for emergencies; for retailers, that means making changes within their infrastructure.

At the beginning of the pandemic people rushed to stores to stockpile and we saw an increase in demand for produce. Upon seeing this, there’s a case that could be built for e-commerce but deliveries can be unreliable, get booked up quickly and take time to arrive. The immediacy of the physical store is unparalleled and something we have all realised and come to appreciate as consumers. Thus an opportunity is presented for well-considered store design to play an integral part in the future of retail. The store of the future is one that is designed with changing circumstances in mind.

If you look East, ‘unmanned retail’ is a trend that is growing apace, especially in regions like Korea which has the likes of supermarkets introducing stores that are totally automated and can serve customers all day and night. It is an untapped area of retail architecture in the West that could present huge possibilities for retailers, even in the face of a pandemic.

There are many ways that architectural design can futureproof the physical store, with or without going fully automatic. Creative solutions such as creating front doors that could be converted into contactless kiosks would allow for contact to be minimised if necessary and is something that could be easily reversed once we return to the normal day-to-day.

You could create vending machines placed outside the store selling essential items. Based on current demand, this might be pasta or toilet roll, but by using data insights gained from loyalty schemes or purchase data, shops could easily see which products are selling fast and stock machines with these. This would take the pressure off lengthy queues in-store, manage stock, and reduce or completely remove the need for any contact with staff. Machines could be stocked with different products dependent on what’s popular in each area, providing a nifty solution that’s easily adaptable.

This is just another example of a simple yet highly effective way smart design provides a solution. But there are hundreds of ways to implement more untact design features that must be embraced going forward.

With hindsight it’s easy to make suggestions on what stores should or shouldn’t have done. None of us have faced a situation such as this before and hopefully many of us will have to again. But this crisis is likely to accelerate innovation and shape – for the better – the way we design our stores.

In this time of need, retail and creative solutions are the answer, meaning stores are prepped to stay open, whatever happens.

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