COVID-19 has created a new shopping paradigm

After more than a year, the United States is getting the coronavirus pandemic under control. Multiple vaccines are being distributed, while local and state governments are loosening restrictions on public gatherings. Meanwhile, retail locations that rely on in-store traffic are preparing for an increase in customers, especially now that warmer weather is here. That said, it’s also likely that COVID-19 will have an impact on society’s psyche long after the physical danger has been mitigated.

Yes, people will return to their local pharmacies and drug stores to pick up items, ranging from shampoo to vital medicine. Still, their expectations may have changed, and with it, the customer experience may need to change as well. 

A new shopping paradigm based on safety and a near-frictionless in-store experience for customers and greater efficiency for store management will set the pace for brick-and-mortar stores looking to succeed post-pandemic.

The New Customer Experience
The new customer experience begins even before patrons enter the store. Customers are going to think twice about entering any facility they don’t feel is safe. In a recent study, global research firm Ipsos found that more than 60% of shoppers would stop visiting a retailer that is not taking health and safety seriously. Even before crossing the threshold, consumers want to know what safety precautions a store has in place, including mask adherence and capacity limits to the ongoing disinfecting of surfaces, merchandise and even the air inside a store. Customer assurance leads to customer trust, which may be the single most crucial factor in getting people in the door.

Once inside, customers will likely be less inclined to browse the aisles, instead opting to “get their business done” as quickly as possible. Businesses will need to provide solutions to help customers accomplish this. In some cases, this may be a

customer-facing solution, such as mobile apps that let customers know if certain products are in stock and where they are located. In other cases, it will be tools to help businesses understand and track customer behavior. Understanding in-store traffic patterns can help businesses avoid bottlenecks that could make patrons uncomfortable or deliver insights that lead to new product placement, making them easier and therefore quicker to find. 

Behind the Scenes
While the potential for increased in-store traffic is cause for optimism among retailers, it will come with additional costs. Employees will have similar expectations as consumers and deserve to work with the assurance that their workplace environment is safe. Finding cost-effective solutions for increased sanitation will be a high priority. Another challenge for retailers will be managing these new logistical challenges. Few consumers will be willing to put up with a delayed shopping experience in exchange for increased safety. For shops, the retail experience must be seamless and safe for consumers and turnkey for store managers and employees.

New technology solutions are now available to address these issues. “Smart lighting” can not only provide superior light and act as an IoT hub, but also be a key component in disinfecting spaces as well. 

The technology empowers retailers to continually deploy disinfecting UVA and UVC light while offering actionable operations insights to store owners, such as aligning product layout with purchasing trend and checkout management. The technology also improves customer experience with innovations, including in-store product searching from devices and interactive mobile store maps. 

An Emphasis on the Long Term 
COVID has created entirely new problems to solve, necessitating fresh ideas on reimagining safety and efficiency in physical retail spaces. Retail and pharmacy managers across the country who can make the necessary changes quickly and cost-effectively, and emphasize long-term solutions driven by emerging technologies, will have the best chance to thrive under the rules of the new customer experience. 

They will be the people leading the example for other retailers to not just get through the short term but continue to thrive for the long term.

a man wearing glasses posing for the camera

Eran Ben-Shmuel is CEO and co-founder of Juganu, a start-up focused on building a circadian indoor lighting system that can inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19. 

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