Visual Merchandising during and after Lockdown

John Abbate FBDS, Lead VM & Windows at Northbanks talks to A1 Retail about what retailers should be doing with their shop windows and VM during, and after lockdown to help create selling opportunities.

Many shops are locked up during the lockdown, and whilst customers may not be able to shop instore, there are still selling opportunities that can be communicated.

Whilst we might shift focus onto e-commerce in order to serve our customers, we also need to keep an eye on what our shops look like and how we should plan for reopening. The Government has announced it could be as early as 1st June, so we must be ready to safely welcome our customers back. We all understand shopping will not ‘go back to normal’ and how we shop will need to follow strict measures, Northbanks are closely monitoring what these will be!

Essential shops have been open during this ‘stay at home’ time and whilst we can take cues from them, we need to consider that what is appropriate for them might differ for us and our unique styles of retail.

Regardless of store type, we must implement a safe environment for customers and those working in the shops, we also need to consider ways to make them feel confident and secure, and want to spend time in there shopping.

Remember your shopfront, it is one of your most valuable commodities – The shop may not be accessible, but for the whole time the shop has been closed the shopfront and windows have been visible.  Locked down shops next to open ones have queues of people waiting with little else to do, this is potentially a massive missed opportunity. Have you done anything to get these shoppers off their ‘phones and looking at your shop? Or better yet, instagrammed your shop and shared it?

If your windows are visible, this is an opportunity to tell people the ways you are OPEN – use the window to promote your e-commerce, or telephone delivery service. Take the opportunity to thank the local community; the NHS, Key Workers, those customers who have been supporting you by shopping online. Be creative with the window, be humorous, positive and upbeat.  We all need some good news and something to occupy us whilst waiting in queues/passing-by.

Store front & window check list during lockdown:

  • Asses your shopfront for how it looks while your shop is closed and what impression it gives to passers-by
  • If you have a shutter what signage could work.
  • If the window is still visible has it been updated since lockdown or is it frozen in time from a pre-Armageddon world?
  • Consider communicating the following messages: COVID-19 related e.g. ‘Stay at Home’, ‘Stay Safe’, the Rainbow etc. It is a chance to thank the NHS & local community; Thank online customers who may be window shopping; Contact details clearly and properly displayed e.g Social media profiles, Website URL or QR code linking to your website or app promoting key products that are online.
  • Are you communicating to the public in a way that reflects your shop ethos or brand personality? If you have done any of the above, how did you do it? Were they Window vinyl, Hand painted stencil, Printed sign, or was it hastily handwritten with scotch tape whilst the zombies were chasing you out of the store?!

The above are tips for the current lockdown period but what about planning for when stores reopen?

We will all rejoice when the doors re-open and we can welcome customers back into our shops but what will the new norm be? No doubt we will need to follow government guidelines and recommendations, especially on social distancing and we will need to communicate these to our shoppers.

Here are Northbanks’ 10 ways to translate social distancing measures instore:

  • Signage: A-boards on windows, floor, countertops or pole mounted frames neatly and clearly help direct customers through: A one-way system, keep 2 metres apart, ‘Please do not touch – ask for assistance’, or self-service e.g. ‘Single touch ‘n’ buy’
  • Consider displaying a notice of how to conduct business, should customers be asked not to touch items but seek assistance (remember the sales team will need to keep their distance) or should they self-serve, bringing items to the cash desk to wrap and bag themselves? ‘Single touch ‘n’ buy’. Each has implications for customer service vs safety of those working in the store.  Regardless which option you choose, your team will need to wear appropriate PPE, e.g. masks, and wash hands constantly. Make this easy for them by having a ‘sanitation station’ with soap / sanitiser, paper towels, rubbish bins and most importantly, training, to not only communicate guidelines but encourage and motivate. Remember to also sanitise chip and pin machines after every use.
  • The company policy notice should be displayed in the window or at the entrance and again at the sales counter for customers to read while they finish the sales transaction. Some customers may be annoyed but most will appreciate that you are helping guide and care about them, your sales team and the general public, to keep us all safe. Thank them for their understanding and be as polite as possible in the tone of voice.  Also train the sales team how to deal with customers who may not respect, challenge or complain about the guidelines / social distancing policies.
  • The material and finish of the signs will depend on your shop or brand retail image: Would a framed notice nicely printed be more appropriate than an acrylic sign or vinyl sticker. If framed: choose a material, colour and finish that matches the shop furniture, finishes or other similar framed artwork or signage in the store.
  • If a floor sticker is a good solution, think about bespoke options so the colours and font match the shop style and branding.
  • Have hand sanitiser at sales counter and at exit points. For a more luxury solution to a plastic bottle, use a soap dispenser of your choice that goes with the shop interior design aesthetic but have appropriate labelling stating that it is hand sanitiser.
  • Acrylic protection screens at sales counters which can be countertop or hung from the ceiling. Plan where to place them and allow space for merchandise and more importantly inclusiveness e.g. wheelchair users etc.
  • If the shop is large and expect a lot of customers, have retractable barriers to help customers form a queue at the sales counters. Again, choose the finish and ribbon colour to match the shop aesthetic.
  • If the shop is a home accessories or fashion retailer, make, sell or give away face masks that go with the branding or ethos. Sales team should wear them too.
  • Take the opportunity to remind customers that shopping can be done online and what services you offer e.g. click and collect, delivery etc… Storefront signage should clearly communicate the company URL and social media, directing customers who want to shop online.

Hopefully customers will want come back, so make it easy, safe and enjoyable for them and those working in the shop.  Use visual merchandising and store design to facilitate this and find appropriate solutions that fit the brand or shop aesthetic.  There might be a store concept where a hand written notice with mangled tape works but if grunge or punk is not part of the visual language then make the effort to incorporate the new way of physical shopping into the shop aesthetic.  Customers will appreciate this effort to welcome them back.

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