Operational Excellence: Store Reopening Strategies Post Covid-19
Nearly five months on from the global spread of Covid-19, lockdowns are finally being eased and stores are reopening.
Most countries in Asia as well as Italy, the UK and US are now gearing up to ignite economic engines again.
The impact of Covid-19 on retail has been tremendous. After months of strict lockdowns, brands and retailers will be reopening stores – with a glut of stock.
In our latest webinar, we invited Simon Collins, co-founder of WeDesign and former creative director of Nike and Bob Neville, creative expert and former global creative director at New Balance, to share their insights on the best store reopening strategies in a post-Covid environment.
Neville, a specialist in physical retail, has designed over 10,000 stores for global brands like Adidas and New Balance.
Stores Are Reopening – Will Consumers Return?
While there are strict SOPs to reopen stores, most consumers lack the confidence to enter public areas.
One speculation among industry experts is the feasibility of running a store under these conditions, especially with consumers now so used to shopping online.
Neville’s perspective is that the role of the store itself must evolve. In fact, he believes this shift is many years overdue since conversations about the ‘retail apocalypse’ first arose. He believes that this crisis is only accelerating that need for change.
The growing dominance of e-commerce in recent years has many second-guessing if physical stores are even necessary for today’s market. But both Collins and Neville agree that stores are a vital part of the fashion industry that cannot be replaced entirely by e-commerce.
As Collins points out, just prior to the crisis “only 30% of consumption could be attributed to online in the US, meaning the vast majority of spending was still done physically”.
Creating an Immersive Experience
One of the important changes in physical retail Neville notes is how consumer-led current day retail is.
“It wasn’t that long ago when brands were still arrogant about how they went out and presented themselves to consumers and dictated messaging. It has become so much more than that, it’s a consumer-led conversation. So, it’s important to understand who you are and what you stand for as a brand”.
Neville believes that creating a seamless customer experience across channels will be integral in creating a welcoming environment for customers. Regardless of where the customer buys a product, physical or online, a seamless experience should translate throughout your omnichannel strategy.
Achieving this requires that brands take a personalised approach in how they structure their stores.
This is where he says brands should be leveraging technology to understand their consumers more effectively. Neville reiterates, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all strategy in retail. Each store can be affected by a different set of external factors – a strategy for a metropolitan city will differ from second-tier or third-tier cities, but scaling this personalised approach to all stores is necessary.
Neville expects human engagement to play a bigger role in the customer journey post-Covid. After months of being cut-off from social interaction, consumers want a sense of community and brand authenticity.
He says the store assistants that interact with the customer on the day-to-day are the ultimate voices of a brand.
“An immersive [store] experience is anything that triggers emotion in us,” Neville explains. He challenges brands to think about what value a store can offer beyond just a transactional relationship.
Moving forward, he says brands need to get used to doing more, with less. With budgets cut, affected roll-out speeds and operational restrictions with social distancing, brands need to modify their stores to suit the current requirements.
Neville continues, technology should be used as an effective tool for communicating an idea to a broader global audience. But he advises brands to use technology that really offers value and to avoid gimmicks.
“Technology should not be used for technology sake”.
With social distancing dictating our interactions for the foreseeable future, relying solely on physical stores is not enough.
During the peak of the pandemic, we saw the majority of non-essential shopping move online and Neville believes there is still massive opportunity to improve the online shopping experience.
Although online offers efficiency and features that cannot be achieved in a physical store, the experience itself is very limited. As Neville explains, e-commerce platforms are “somewhat one-dimensional as they’re restricted to pages and a grid of products” so finding ways to provide a human experience should be at the forefront of online innovation.
He suggests blurring the lines between offline and online retail – simulating how consumers shop in real life.
Collins and Neville brought up how real-life shopping behaviours such as browsing or social interactions are absent in an online environment.
During the webinar, there was also a discussion surrounding online privacy. Neville points out that assuming what people want can be very dangerous for brands. He urges brands to track data and product movement in a way that is non-identifiable.
Fundamentally, Neville believes data and technology is a powerful means of validating ideas and ways of moving forward, especially when presenting high-level information to management, business owners and CEOs. As Collins chimes in, “this where Omnilytics is a great tool, it shouldn’t make decisions for you, but you shouldn’t make decisions without it”.
When asked about investing in offline versus online channels, Nevilles advises brands to first analyse their spending and look at how procurement decisions are made.
Setting up a better economic foundation will allow for better investments in future. In his experience, he has seen many brands waste their resources on tasks that could have been done more cost-effectively.
The five most important takeaways for store reopening strategies as highlighted by Neville throughout the webinar are:
- Brands should act on the basis of fact – analysing data and understanding consumer behaviour will be key in getting consumers to return.
- Being agile and adaptable is a necessity. Brands can no longer be structured by channel. Embodying omnichannel strategies is the only way to survive in a post-Covid environment. Ensure consistent customer experience across channels.
- Be authentic and find your own tone-of-voice; a brand can never be successful in just replicating others.
- Provide enriching experiences that connect emotionally, the human experience has never been more relevant. Do not limit yourself by just thinking transactionally.
- Analyse spending and resources, find ways to source things more efficiently.
As Neville reiterates, information is power and “the more information you have means the decisions you make can be as strong as possible”.
He also urges brands to think more in the mid to long-range to ensure business continuity.
Collins ends the webinar by telling the audience to challenge everything and be open to new ideas, people and voices. “Necessity is the mother of invention…brands that stand a chance are those completely rethinking their approach to retail”.
Get all of the insights shared by Bob Neville and Simon Collins on reopening and omnichannel strategies by watching the full webinar recording here.
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