In these unpredictable times, one thing is certain – the pandemic has changed retail forever. In the coming months, brick-and-mortar retailers will need to continue to overhaul traditional practices and adopt efficient digital solutions, such as retail marketing management software and social media tools, in order to cut costs and reignite excitement for physical retail environments.
Very few sectors of the economy have been as affected by the pandemic as much as brick-and-mortar retail stores. What was supposed to be just a few weeks of restrictions very quickly morphed into a much longer ordeal, with the whole world battling to get the virus under control. Over a year since the ominous headlines first hit our screens, there is now light at the end of the tunnel as people turn out in droves to get vaccinated and lockdown restrictions ease.
With all of the uncertainty the past year, the limbo of changing rules, working from home and shielding our most vulnerable, it’s likely many behavioural changes will be here for the long haul. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a colossal impact on how we live, work, and socialise, and how, where and when we shop.
In 2020, retail sales fell by 1.9%, the largest yearly fall currently recorded, with online sales increasing by 33.9%. Although the digital landscape had already hugely altered all our lives before the pandemic, the Covid-19 virus prevented us from leaving our homes, and the ability to shop online offered a safer, more convenient alternative to travelling to a brick-and-mortar location.
With that being said, the majority of sales still take place in physical locations, and post-Covid physical shops shouldn’t compete with online shopping – quite the opposite. Stores continue to offer things that cannot be replicated in the online world, in particular memorable in-person experiences that increase brand loyalty and raise awareness. In order to ensure shoppers keep returning on foot, businesses will need to offer even more inspiring in-store experiences with engaging visual merchandising and displays, great value and exceptional customer service.
Retail marketing management software like Colateral’s online platform can help head office teams streamline campaign planning and store communications and collect much-needed insights from shop floors – all hugely important as retail adjusts to the long-term changes that Covid has brought about. Here are some of the ways the pandemic has affected how retailers operate:
Pre-pandemic, if you’d asked the average citizen what social distancing was, they would have looked at you blankly. More than a year on from England’s first lockdown and the concept has become a fixed part of our day-to-day lives and is synonymous with lockdown restrictions.
Social distancing regulations may continue for many more months. Retailers will have to continue to be creative about the layout of their brick-and-mortar sites. Stock displays and visual merchandising materials will continue to occupy less space to allow safer navigation through stores, but as footfall on the high street increases, they need to deliver even more impact. As well as social distancing, mask-wearing, contact tracing, contactless payment, speed of service, and controlling the number of staff and customers in-store will likely continue for some time.
Covid safety signage that was fast-tracked to stores may begin to be replaced with longer-term, more brand-consistent messaging as shoppers are encouraged to browse – albeit safely – again. By utilising Colateral’s retail marketing management software, you can engineer bespoke marketing and promotions for each of your locations and efficiently communicate those plans with shop floor employees. Maintaining safety in-store with informed colleagues and updated signage, and providing a visually appealing and effective experience, can be easily achieved at the same time.
There’s no denying the past year has been a lonely one for most. Cut off from family and friends; many have had to bear the brunt of the rolling lockdowns on their lonesome. With restrictions easing and more of the population becoming fully vaccinated, brick-and-mortar stores will become more inviting spaces for visitors. Both new and existing customers are likely to head to non-essential stores for a reminder of pre-pandemic life and much-needed human interaction. A team of engaged, enthusiastic employees with in-depth product knowledge who’ll willingly chat and help customers have never been more crucial to in-store retail success.
Great visual merchandising is also essential when it comes to not only crafting a welcoming environment in the store but also empowering and engaging onsite employees. An unappealing atmosphere does nothing to foster positive attitudes amongst store teams, which can translate to unhappy customers receiving sub-optimal service levels. With people nationwide coming out of hiding and back into brick-and-mortar locations, now is the time to freshen up store interiors and introduce some enticing displays and thoughtful visual merchandising.
Shopping is no longer a solely offline or online experience. Most of the time, it’s a mix of the two, particularly when it comes to clothing items and more considered purchases. With Buy Online, Pick Up In Store becoming more popular over the last year and personal retail appointments hitting the high street at speed, physical and digital shopping experiences are becoming more intertwined than ever before. Research has found that there is a ‘halo effect’ around stores, where more online purchases take place within the vicinity of a retailer’s physical locations, once again proving the need for them to be multi-faceted: brand and experience hubs, distributions centres, and pick up points all rolled into one.
The pandemic has forced innovation in retail at a colossal speed, and those that embraced new technologies and focused on making omnichannel shopping more efficient and less expensive while maintaining their brick-and-mortar presence have been the ones to shine. Aware of the important role their physical locations play, they have also accelerated their innovations in stores, from their formats and layouts to their marketing.
While the last 18 months have unearthed unprecedented challenges for retailers, the pandemic has also provided a rare opportunity to review, refresh and transform brick-and-mortar locations, look at new ways to interact with customers and employees and adapt to an ever-changing landscape with new and improved digital solutions.
Colateral’s modern and easily accessible retail marketing management software allows marketing teams to streamline campaign planning and delivery across multiple different locations, produce in-store marketing that is infrastructure-specific and equip in-store employees with clear communications and display instructions – all working together to ensure you provide great in-store experiences while cutting costs and reducing waste.