This blog is by Chris Richardson, a Store Operations leader, and is re-posted from the Effective Retailer Leader blog. To learn more about the blog and see additional posts please visit https://effectiveretailleader.com/

It is likely too early to fully understand the full effects the coronavirus will have on retail as an industry. And, in many ways, this event will divide retail into at least two different categories – essential and non-essential. We are already seeing that today as some retailers remain open out of necessity while others close and wait. Grocery, pet supplies, and a few others are actually thriving right now. On the other end of the spectrum, many retailers have shuttered doors without the knowledge of when they will be able to re-open.

Before the outbreak of this virus, there was already the slow but steady shift occurring in the retail environment. Each year, over the past several, we regularly saw the counts of closed stores and even full chains build up. The need to change was already upon the industry, but the COVID-19 event will force the hands of many retailers to shift quickly into new business models. Even with expected and necessary government support, many retailers will face significant financial pressures to survive. What areas will retailers need to address quickly as stores begin to re-open in the coming weeks and months?

These are just some initial thoughts on key areas I believe that most retailers will need to concentrate on.

Become a truly omni-channel retailer

The need to fully integrate the online and in-store models will be an absolute necessity. What that looks like will only continue to evolve. The need and expectation of curbside pickup was a luxury just a few weeks ago. Several retailers were dipping their toes into the idea, but it was not widespread. By this fall, I believe it will be an expectation of customers. People’s view of convenience and low-touch interaction will be vastly different as we emerge from our quarantines and begin to move back to whatever normal will be in the future. But being able to choose how, when, and where you get your products from any retailer will be a requirement.

Delivery will no longer mean several days or only on certain products. Same day, next day, or scheduled delivery of your entire purchase will become the new expectation. Many grocery stores saw this service explode in the past few weeks. It became a lifeline for many people. They will remember the convenience of not having to leave their house or be able to use that time for something different in the future as well.

Like an iPhone, Your Customer Experience Needs Continual Upgrades

Cleanliness

Sanitation stations, disinfecting wipes, and overall cleanliness will have a heightened awareness. Most customers didn’t think about how clean each shopping cart was or when the last time the counter at which they checkout was cleaned. Most of the world has received a crash course of hand washing (sing your 20-second song) and how transmission of germs and viruses occur. It will not just be moms with small children that expect to see devices for sanitizing your hands in stores or the ability to wipe down shopping carts or doors wherever they are. People will pay attention to dirt and grime that may build up near registers, pin pads, and in restrooms. Those will be signals as to how clean your business is. Retailers will need a plan for how they meet these new standards quickly.

How Chick-fil-A Creates an Outstanding Customer Experience

Value

Regardless of how much money the government pours into the economy to help restart it, people will be conscious of value and costs for the foreseeable future. Similar to what was experienced after the recession of 2008 and 2009, customer’s habits and consciousness of what they are spending will be heightened.

Experiences will still be popular over just commodity items. But the expectations of those experiences as well as the products that go with them will need to show that it is a wise use of money. I expect people will be very selective about what they choose to spend both time and money on. With unemployment expected to move potentially to double digits, it will be a targeted environment for where people go and what they buy. If retailers cannot show value, it will be tough to attract many customers back to their businesses. I believe this will hold true for almost every business sector. People are learning what is most important to them as they shelter in place with family.

If You Want to Improve Your Customer’s Experience, Stop Looking at Your Scores. Do This Instead

We all wish we could have a crystal ball to see where this will end up. Unfortunately, we are still early in this evolving crisis. It is too early to know how long the most significant closures will last. We do not know the full impact this event will have on everyone’s buying and engagement habits. Social distancing for many will become a new norm, while others will crave to be around people once again. However, the economic impact is likely to be deeper than anything we have ever experienced in our lifetimes and could leave similar lasting scars as the Great Depression did on generations of people. As leaders in the retail business, we will need to be receptive to new ideas, agile in implementing them, and connect with our customers in ways we did not think necessary only a few short weeks ago.

What thoughts do you have on how retail will change in the coming months ahead?