The pandemic has driven online sales higher, but it has also brought new expectations for the in-store experience. Shoppers concerned about health and hygiene now demand a contactless experience, either entirely, or at least in some parts of their shopping journey.
Historically, however, retail has been a high-touch game. Not so much physical touch, but engaging with customers has been critical to offering good customer service. That may involve some level of contact, direct or indirect. A sales associate may, for example, hand over an item they’ve touched or adjust the collar on a shirt a customer tries on. Even with conversations, standing in reasonably close proximity today may seem threatening to some customers.
This shift in sentiment and need is likely here to stay for some time. One 2020 global survey of more than 4,800 consumers and 950 executives by Capgemini Research Institute found that 62% of consumers expected to increase their use of touchless technologies to avoid physical contact even after the pandemic is over.
While some retail stores may not allow for an entirely contactless experience, there are ways to assure customers you’re keeping their health and wellbeing top of mind. Here are five contactless shopping tips for your retail store.
1. Learn from BOPIS and curbside
Thanks to the pandemic, even customers who enjoy visiting your store are likely to engage with your brand through a digital channel. Many customers today are also used to ordering for curbside pick-up, and if it’s a situation where delivery isn’t preferred, buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS) activity has become a popular option as well.
Of course, some products are easy to offer for curbside pick-up. Groceries, restaurant items, kitchen utensils, toys, household cleaning supplies, anything that doesn’t require attention to personal style or sizing, can be picked up curbside. If you haven’t given the option for customers to pick up items at the curb, you’ll want to consider it. No, it doesn’t get them into the store, but it’s good for branding to show you are aware of your customer’s changing preferences and needs.
For the BOPIS crowd, you’ll want to pay attention to the nuances of the order. If for some reason the customer has chosen to pick-up in store and the products are general, not in need of trying on or require customization, that may be a signal that he or she wants to look around. Maintain social distance, but be available. This customer may require less of a touchless experience, but since they did order online—they may still not want too much contact. And finally, make sure in-store signage clearly directs them to the pick-up area. Some retailers may opt for in-store pick to be in the back of the store to increase the likelihood that customers will see other items that may entice them on the way to the back.
2. Weave in a concierge-style touch to in-store experiences
Some retail journeys may require trying something on or some level of customer education. Certain clothing retailers have implemented online augmented reality try-on technologies to bring the in-store experience to online shopping.
If that’s not something that’s in your budget, work with your technology team to help you create an in-store experience for the customer that is both safe and engaging. You can even market it as a concierge-style experience where, if customers do want to come in to learn more about a product, a certain section of your store can be dedicated to the experience and appointments can be made through web and mobile channels.
When the customer comes in, associates can wear gloves, masks, keep an appropriate distance and make sure hand sanitizer is available. It’s important to be aware of what types of products you carry that align with these experiences, and leverage input from your customers and information gathered online to see if your customers want these types of experiences. You may be surprised at how many do!
3. Contactless checkout is here to stay
Check-outs are a prime spot to brush up on good contactless engagement practices. They were one of the first areas of the retail floorspace that implemented touchless practices when the pandemic started.
If you haven’t already, you can install sneeze guards and make sure a variety of minimal- or non-touch payment options are available. QR payments, tap cards and utilizing people’s Venmo accounts for mobile payments are ways to minimize touch, and you can offer to email receipts as well. Some merchants have decided to no longer take cash. Gather input to see if this is something your customer base might prefer or not.
4. Evaluate your store layout
Some in-store layouts have transformed in the name of efficiency and touchless activity due to the pandemic. Generally speaking, many customers still prefer to get in and out fast. So, you’ll want to evaluate your store layout to look for choke points that may hold people up, and poorly placed retail displays that may impede customer flow and potentially navigate too many people towards one area. You’ll also want to assess your in-store signage to see if it helps to spread people out, or if it creates crowds in some spots.
5. Communicate with your customers
Above all, it’s important to remember that your unique retail experience is also part of your brand. If you understand that some of your products don’t have the best contactless workarounds, acknowledge it upfront.
You can initiate questions about in-store experiences on digital channels and give customers an opportunity to speak to the sales floor team about potential changes to the layout and other concerns they may have. If you can acknowledge the potential pitfalls upfront, and engage in conversations to find best practices for the situation, you can earn respect and actually increase loyalty for putting customer safety first.
Adapting to your customers’ changing needs has always been a part of the retail world, and arguably more so today than ever. If you need help setting up your store to integrate more contactless shopping into your layout, contact one of our experts to help!