Will we ever be able to try clothes on in a store again? Will customers feel comfortable buying secondhand clothing?
Consumer behavior is inevitably changing as digital experiences become the norm during the COVID 19 pandemic. Our physical shopping expectations are also shifting as safety, digital autonomy, and omnichannel distribution standards continue to rise. What will retail look like in 6 months? We crave human connection and social interactions, however, how do we achieve this in a store setting? Remember your last shopping experience before the pandemic? Was it comfortable? Did you feel rushed? Become irritated if the line was too long? We certainly wouldn’t have been okay with waiting on a line that circled around the outside of the store. We don’t expect to go back to the way things were because of the digital adaptations that have occurred in the past few months. Some fun facts from Retail Drive: 24.6% of bridge millennials, 23.8% of millennials, and 17% of Gen Z consumers have shifted some routines to digital channels and plan to maintain those changes even after the pandemic. Gen X leads the way, with 26% of them saying the same. PYMNTS.com's findings indicate some digital behaviors differ based on income. Consumers who earn less than $50,000 were most likely to not shift their routines online, with 38% indicating they had made no shifts, while 34% of consumers who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 have moved routines online and plan to maintain all of their digital habits after the pandemic. For consumers earning more than $100,000, 46% said they shifted activities online and plan to maintain some of those behaviors after the pandemic ends, and 38% of the same group plan to maintain all of their shifted behaviors post-pandemic.
In Austin, TX customers at Neiman Marcus are shadowed by sales associates who handle the items for you. Not the ideal setting for an experience where touch is one of the main sensations. There seems to be no hygiene protocol accepted by the retail industry. A retail associate in Ohio shared her job has shifted to mostly cleaning dressing rooms and steaming clothes with a cleaning agent which have been tried on by customers. Maybe UV light will have to be an element of service to make customers feel more confident about any COVID-19 doubts. No matter the solution, the science is still out on how effective these measures are to fight to COVID-19 but for the retailer it’s less about physical health and more about mental health, keeping the customers feeling comfortable and at ease, hoping to bring back confidence. Our behaviors have become more digital and further change is inevitable.
We imagined what retail will look like in the future, what major shifts will occur, and possible scalable solutions.
Many retailers have been dependent on a system that was solely designed for a brick and mortar structure which has been lacking in bringing new customers through their doors even before the pandemic. The pandemic amplified a foot traffic problem that had been declining for the past 5 years. We are in the 4th industrial revolution, it is a great time to embrace this moment to advance; be open to change, adapt, and evolve. From a former retail employer perspective, maybe executives should invest more time with sales associates for answers followed by data. Sales associates have the answers to so many problems CEO’s face. For retailers to survive they will have to start listening more, especially with those that are at the front line with the customer/consumer. Sales associates hold a major key to the understanding of the customer’s needs and wants. As states reopen, close, and reopen again brands can not rely on local governments to create safe spaces. It is up to businesses to pay attention to consumer behavior to strategize a new road map.
Many retailers are rushing to gain an online presence on a platform that hasn’t evolved much since the invention of eCommerce but has seen a significant increase since the pandemic started. As of April 21, eComm statistics show an impressive 146% growth in all online retail orders. Although online seems to be the answer to keep consumerism going, shopping is more than a transaction, it is a way to reconnect with life. Mixing offline and online experiences are the key to creating a successful and safe shopping experience.
It is time to integrate online and offline with tech and fashion integrations. We believe it is a waste of time thinking we will get back to “normal” and are losing time and missing opportunities. After all, we learn 10x more during a crisis. Exciting times to be creative, learn, and put into action.
Traditionally a physical store is 70% floor space, 10% dressing rooming, and if you are lucky in NYC 20% stockroom. We purposely flipped these figures. 70% stockroom, 20% dressing room, and 10% floor or check out space. What would this look like in practice? Well, let's walk you through it.
Step 1: Fill the virtual cart. It all starts before entering the physical store. Pre-trip preparation by filling up the shopping cart with different styles and sizes.
Step 2: Select an appointment to reserve a dressing room. Even before this "new normal," whatever that means, we lived by our Google Calendar. If it didn't appear on the calendar, it didn't exist. Scheduling a store visit would provide confidence standing on line, get too close to others, and feeling rushed wouldn't be an issue.
Step 3: Enter the store. There is an entrance to the left of the store and an exit to the right of the store. Upon entry, a tablet is available to check-in and assign a dressing room. Arrows mark the direction to the dressing room.
Step 4: To the right, a familiar conveyer belt, similar to a dry cleaners, whirls clothing around. This deposits the items selected prior to arrival into the dressing room.
Step 5: The dressing room time limit is based on the number of items placed in the cart. The room is outfitted with a magic mirror that allows logging into social media, taking filtered shots, and receiving feedback from followers (no need to take out your phone).
Step 6: Items to be purchased are taken out of the dressing room. The exit is to the left towards the check out area.
Step 7: Self-checkout area is the final step before heading to the exit.
Behind the scenes, store employees place items in the dressing room, remove items after try-on, and sanitize rooms between clients. Clothing is passed through a UV light to disinfect. A fee is collected to reserve the dressing room that will be subtracted from the final purchase. Options to have a stylist select items for "recommended styles" sessions will be available.
Collaborating Writer: Isabella Montoya is the founder of Paz Lifestyle and Fair Trade Advocate.