May 29, 2020 /Retail Insight

Why retail stores should return to basics

At the start of March, a poem by Kitty O’Meara circulated social media. The opening lines read:

‘And the people stayed home. and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply’.

Kitty O’Meara

The sentiments expressed in this poem are in sharp contrast to the lives we were living only a few months ago. Two months on, Europe has started to lift restrictions and Boris Johnson addressed the British public saying the government was changing its message from ‘Stay at Home’, to ‘Stay Alert’. The change signalled a slow and cautiously steady start to relaxing lockdown measures. This news was followed by the announcement that non-essential retail will reopen June 15th.

Whilst this is a step forwards, and conversations have circulated LinkedIn and newspaper headlines, we are starting to imagine what long term, full relaxation of lockdown measures will look like.

The Reopening of Retail Stores

For the foreseeable future, the expectation is that stores will be more spacious, allowing for safe distance amongst people that visit them. Store opening times will be reduced to monitor traffic. Last week, Danish fashion retailer Wood Wood announced plans to open stores nationwide in Denmark and in Berlin between noon and 5 pm this week. This is a first step, but is this entirely a bad thing? 

Twenty-six years ago, the Sunday Trading act (1994) came into effect. Prior to this, it had been mostly illegal to buy and sell on a Sunday, which seems almost unimaginable to us now. Before Covid-19 hit, we were immersed in a 24-hour culture with an expectation for extended shopping hours and a ‘more is better’ shopper mindset.

Is more better? How do we define better?

A New Way of Being

What is better retail post-covid19? Buying more? Or will retail learn new ways of being – and listen more deeply? Will we go back to basics, and help people to maintain their newfound slower ways of life? 

Should stores return to an ‘always-open’ model once pandemic restrictions are fully lifted? Or, could stores stick to more limited hours and rethink how opening hours are curated to drive experiences for consumers? Would limited opening times drive more appeal to be in the store itself?

On the other hand, a move back towards longer opening hours could reduce the volume of consumer traffic at any given time.

Community, locality and connection; Considering Customer Experience

One way to think about consumer traffic is to consider how to curate it in terms of experience. Monitoring traffic will be a priority for retailers. A recent article in the Financial Times discusses how restaurants may no longer accept walk-ins and require all diners to pre-book. When it comes to the physical retail space, brands can consider creating ‘bookable slots’

If we turn to retail, this tactic to monitor traffic would lend itself well to luxury brands – particularly as this provides the opportunity for consumers to develop a relationship with the sales advisor in-store. This brings retail back to the very fundamental sentiment of human connection. We are human beings after all, and we crave connection, connection to cause and to others. 

This idea of connection brings us back to locality. Many of us have sought to support small local businesses. When given the opportunity, we have bought food locally. It is always a good feeling when the local barista remembers your order and asks you about projects developing in your life. Continuing to nurture these relationships post lockdown will be a positive thing. The power of community and personal connections should never be underestimated.

Community-drive retail stores

Community-driven stores are not a new concept. Last year, retail experiences were promoting a localised mindset through philanthropy and social solidarity. For instance, Foot Locker debuted a new flagship in Washington Heights across a two-level store; the space itself catered to a localised mindset by featuring a mural façade of nearby landmarks. In addition, the store stocked new and upcoming sneaker brands from New York such as Triangulo Swag and Lifestyle NYC. The local brands rotated, and their founders gave in-store talks covering entrepreneurship.

Across the pond in London, Samsung opened a new retail store in Coal Drop Yard that placed community engagement at the forefront of the experience. An open-plan space within the store was dedicated to hosting events and providing people the opportunity to share skills in workshops. The events and workshops ran in tandem with local educational institutions such as Central Saint Martins and community groups such as the Young Film Academy. 

If we have listened more deeply, how can a retail store offer real value to their local communities to provide meaningful connection? As we enter a climate of increased unemployment, can brands offer the possibility for upskilling in the physical space? Can stores partner with local organisations to offer real value, alongside their product offering?

Restructuring Retail

Can we restructure retail store opening times to promote a consumer culture that is slower and intentional, offering moments of ease and relaxation? Can we seek to design for the quality of the moment, over the quantity of hours? 

Along the road to reopening stores, we must go back to basics, prioritise human connection and rethink experience to deliver purposeful brand intention.

If you would like to know more about how Sheridan&Co can work with you to help you reopen your retail store, please contact us here.