July 27, 2020 / Director's View

Store Openings and Consumer Behaviour Insights as retail emerges from lockdown

Los Angeles’ stores reopened in May. Then, London reopened non-essential retail and has now implemented rules for shoppers enforcing face coverings. In New York, retail is yet to reopen. As a global retail design agency, there is a lot that we can learn about store re-openings from consumer behaviour.

Our Global Director, Freddie Sheridan & Chairman and Co-Founder Michael Sheridan talk about their learnings and consumer insights from different store openings so far, to continue to understand and learn from how consumers are behaving in each country. The pair break down different trends they anticipated coming to light with notable examples including reimagining the queuing space, bookable brand spaces and establishing new service offerings due to reduced traffic flow in the store.

Consumer Behaviour Insights from Initial Store Openings

The initial opening weeks were great in the UK. We have got some feedback and a feeling beyond what we were anticipating on how things are going. 

Some brands that are ensuring they are ticking the boxes in terms of adhering to hygiene and then there are others who are going the extra mile to deliver an experience for customers in-store. As identified in recent discussions, we know that there are varying degrees in which consumers need reassurance when it comes to shopping.

28% of consumers said that lockdown has not impacted their attitude towards going into a physical store again

Stats from the first week show that 28% of consumers said that lockdown has not impacted their attitude towards going into a physical store again. In terms of consumer behaviour, these are the people who are already out there shopping. They do not mind queuing and are not concerned when shopping. As predicted these consumers will be socially distancing but they still want to get into the store.

The next set of consumers we predicted are those who follow the governmental guidelines closely. We now know that 66% of people say that when social distancing is no longer mandatory, they will be comfortable going into stores. 

“I believe there are two ways that stores can approach re-entering a new normal. We can watch until social distancing is over. Or we can try our best to understand what the limitations to social distancing are and try to minimise those or make positives out of them. If you are a brand that is able to do that, you’ll be able to access that 66%, much earlier than everyone else will be.” noted Freddie Sheridan in a recent company board meeting.

The same approach can be applied to queuing. 50% of people have said that when they don’t have to queue to go back into the store, they will be back in. Of course, you can either wait for queueing not to be mandatory anymore, or you can take it and turn it into a positive thing and you will be one of those few brands who start to get access to that 50%.

“As people returned to stores, it was interesting to see brands like Primark having a long queue outside. This is unsurprising due to the fact that people have been unable to access their products for a long time. However, it has been exciting to see that some of the ideas we had predicted whilst in lockdown, have come to fruition. For instance, we have spent a lot of time talking about queues and the impact on consumer behaviour.” continues Freddie Sheridan

I could not agree more. It was interesting that the topics we were talking about before the store’s openings have now become relevant. Yes – we are having to manage queues. It’s been interesting to see that a number of people are happy to go back under any circumstances to get back into shops. I am really pleased to see that with Selfridges and parts of the stores that they have reopened have been well supported, particularly with the food offering and then once they get people in, that then makes a difference in terms of where people go and what they buy. So it’s really good. During the lockdown, we spoke about ‘surprise, delight and generosity’ and I think that for the time being, the surprise is that people are allowed to go back into shops. The surprise and delight are connected in that respect. Yet the generosity is that retailers are looking after their customers, whether it is supplying them with water and drinks. They are making sure that the journey for them is good.” Michael Sheridan adds

Beyond looking at consumer behaviour in general and how people are reacting to store openings in a positive way,  customers have started to discuss their feedback on their first store experiences since lockdown has lifted. Customers who have entered into retail spaces have been reminded what it is that they enjoy about going into a store over and beyond what you get when you shop online. Brands have put increased efforts into their online experiences but must now think about how digital and physical experiences fit together as one continuous experience, rather than seeing them as competing factors. One of the great things about retail is the experiential elements. 

“I was recently able to return to a salon. The experience reminded me of the importance of being in a space that is specifically designed for a service and it is easy to take it for granted. A lot of hairdressers are the same, but what you have to remember is those locations have been specifically designed for people to fulfil services.  Having a haircut by your partner or a family member in lockdown in a room without a mirror, without good lighting was a pretty anxious experience. But being back in a space that was specifically designed for it, talking to a hairdresser was a real pleasure. It is a very simple takeaway but it is also a reminder to a lot of people. In retail, we have to think about a lot of complicated things, such as overall experience, lighting, brand and consumer behaviour, but at the same time, we must remember that retail is a platform for sales teams or people giving out services to do their role properly. Retail design is finding the perfect combination of aesthetic, layout, craftsmanship combined with practical solutions. It must be an enjoyable and seamless experience for customers and sales specialists alike. Just having 3 months off from that and being back in that experience was a great reminder of that.” Freddie Sheridan

“One interesting thing to highlight was the fact that the salon was monitoring traffic. My girlfriend and I were the only two people in the salon. From a retailer perspective, it is a bit of a pain for them as they can’t serve more people at any one time. However, as a client, it was great because we had the salon for ourselves so it was enjoyable. It pushes brands to think about – ok they are not getting the volume that they did before, but are their ways for them to monetise these experiences under these circumstances for something fundamentally positive that they wouldn’t have been able to have done so before. Looking after people better is one thing, but there is also an opportunity to think about different services and experiences that can be offered. Can you work out which people really want this service or charge them for a more premium and luxurious experience that they wouldn’t normally have in other circumstances?”

That is one of the great things about having a bookable appointment, queuing is not an issue. This bookable moment is something we are seeing more brands offer in line with their store openings across several industries. This acts as a great platform to create VIP moments for clients and nurturing brand/consumer relationships. 

“Being back in a store again was refreshing. There is nothing like being in a physical space and browsing all stock a store has to offer – especially when it is done in a way with love and care.  Of course with online shopping, algorithms can suggest products you might like. This was great during the lockdown. But there is nothing quite like being in-store and then being surprised by something that stands out to you. I was fortunate because I was the only person in the store at the time and I was helped by a passionate sales advisor who attentively walked around with me. I was able to touch and feel products to determine its quality – which is not something you can do online. Tactility is a truly unique element to retail experiences.  At the same time, you experience no delay in waiting for products in a physical store that occurs when you order online.  If I like it, great. If I don’t, I have to send it back and have another go. With physical retail, it is instant.

However, one thing I appreciated was the ability to be able to have a conversation with a sales advisor again. The lady helping me took the time to understand my needs, quality and colour preferences. In a digital sense, you get data, but it’s very transactional and non-emotive.” Freddie Sheridan

“Since store openings, the environment has become more important – in the sense that you are stepping out of a space where you spent so much time during the lockdown. You feel that you want a change of scenery. So that environmental aspect could not be more important. Before, it used to just be about taking you away from the distraction of your phone or busy life. Now, it is refreshing to be in a new space. The environment then exceeds expectations. The other important thing to consider is the emotion and how this impacts consumer behaviour. Emotion from your perspective is that you were looking to buy something for someone else, so already there is an emotional context to why you are shopping. Yet, with the shopkeeper helping you, and picking up on the importance of that, they can do a great job in assisting you with your experience. I see the environment and emotions now as intrinsically connected. Not they haven’t been before, but they are particularly more so now. Covid has made it more important than they have before.” continues Michael Sheridan

Freddie Sheridan adds “Yes and I believe, with Covid, we are entering a forced age of mindfulness when it comes to shopping, which I think is really important when it comes to consumer behaviour. We are obviously going to a supermarket when we need to. People enjoy that and it’s relatively transactional. When it comes to the objects that I need, and that I know I can get online, I will get them online. But when it comes to retail experiences, I know that I might have to handle a queue and that social distancing will be required. I am being incredibly selective about where I am going. I am asking myself which transactions are important to me and which ones do I need more in order to make the right decision. 

Before, when I was doing my Christmas shopping, either in London or New York, I might go around 10-15 stores in one session, bouncing around, moving from one to next to find something. Whereas in this instance, I am being incredibly selective and making the most of that encounter. I am really making the most of the fact I can talk to the people about the products I am considering. 

Now we are in this space of more store openings after covid19, there is a real opportunity for brands to pick up on this and nurture relationships with consumers by the simplicity of meaningful conversation and taking the time to ask questions in a retail environment that has forced more ‘one-to-one’ moments between consumers and sales advisors.“

How to create better experiences as stores reopen

    • Improved personal relationships between clients and retailers. One to one consultations with reduced store traffic invites brands the opportunity to engage with consumers on a more intimate level. 
    • Reinvigorating the power of physical space and the tactility that stores offer. This is retail’s USP over digital shopping. How can your brand invoke spontaneity and surprise into their space?
    • Embrace varying degrees of reassurance when it comes to consumer engagement when returning to the store.
    • Understand the connection between environments and emotions and how this influences consumer behaviour. We touched upon this in our blog about colour psychology. However, creating mindful store experiences will be key moving forward. 
    • Create new opportunities to monetise and generate new revenue streams for brands by offering bespoke services in lieu of reduced traffic. 

    This post-pandemic retail situation has ensured more than any other way – that the customer is no longer invisible. The customer can no longer be ignored. Now each and every one of us is a potential weapon of mass destruction, we should get attention from sales staff like never before.

    At Sheridan&Co, we have been working with our clients to listen, guide and support them through their journey to reopen following covid19 closures. Covid19 brought the industry to a grinding halt. However, it has given us the opportunity to reimagine and evaluate store experiences for consumers and how brands tell their stories. 

    If you would like to learn more about our retail strategy offering, please get in touch.