With lockdowns lifting across Australia, many retail businesses are finally getting ready to open up again. As you (a retail store owner) open up again, you are likely facing new expectations from customers, changes to your supply chain, and adjustments to your staffing and hiring approach.
In preparing to reopen and thinking about what that means for your business, retailers must consider specific factors, such as your in-store capacity, attracting and engaging shoppers, and ways to incorporate new technology trends into your business moving forward.
Here are some strategies for retail store owners to consider in their ongoing reopening plans.
Increase in-store capacity at your own pace
Even if your local government has lifted restrictions, you don’t need to return to your pre-lockdown capacity immediately. Many retailers are feeling from consumers to reopen fully as soon as possible, but it can be valuable to gradually increase your capacity based on your available resources. If you’ve been open for some time, you might notice more customers starting to trickle in as restrictions lift in other areas and travel picks back up, so plan for this too.
In the past year many retailers had to drastically reduce in-store capacity, and this has had a ripple effect on staffing, inventory, and other resources. Think about what you need to prepare before embracing more in-store visitors. Do you need to re-arrange product displays to allow for more people to browse your store comfortably? Is your point-of-sale area ready to accommodate longer checkout lines? Do you have enough staff to continue to offer excellent customer service?
No matter how you plan your reopening strategy, be open and communicative with customers about your in-store policies, including mask requirements, social distancing and capacity limits.
Bring back events and in-store sales with new considerations
As restrictions lift, retailers can begin to plan sales and special events to encourage customers to shop in-store again. Since many consumers are craving a reason to get out of the house and interact with others, events can be a great way to give shoppers a social experience to look forward to.
Before inviting customers to your store, keep tabs on your local state government guidelines for large events and gatherings as well as local policies for your area. Expect to retain heightened sanitary measures and safety policies that arose during the pandemic, including masks and hand sanitiser stations, and communicate these clearly to guests with signage and your event promotional materials. As excited as consumers are to be able to gather, people are still likely to feel more comfortable knowing that you have made arrangements to keep the environment clean and safe.
Consider using reservations or planning an appointment-based event to allow for comfortable social distancing, and manage capacity to match your event staffing levels.
Many businesses adapted and found ways to hold events virtually in the past year, and you shouldn’t ditch those strategies as you plan for in-person events. Keep in mind that while many people are eager for face-to-face gatherings, others will need time to warm up to the idea of returning to live events. Give your events an offline and online component, allowing customers who aren’t ready to attend in person a way to engage with your brand’s sales and other specials online.
Embrace the tech trends that came out of the pandemic
Reopening your store to an in-person shopping experience doesn’t mean returning to a pre-technology shopping experience.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic certainly pushed innovation in technology, with many businesses implementing creative ways to use tech to enhance the customer experience. These tech trends aren’t going away anytime soon; in fact, consumers may hold even higher expectations in 2022 for their favourite stores to be more tech-savvy.
Embrace technology to make your in-store experience engaging, convenient, and compelling. Knowing that shopping online is easy and quick, what attracts people to come to your store? Think about the atmosphere you create, the opportunities for socialising, and the connection that people feel when they visit your store.
One fresh new way to rebuild this connection with your consumers is through livestream selling. This is when sellers use live online videos via social media or other digital channels to demonstrate products, walk through their stores, or to give a behind-the-scenes look at in-store operations. Livestream selling gives your consumers a glimpse into your brick-and-mortar location from the comfort of their homes, enticing them to visit your store and regain the magic of shopping in person.
Another technology that gained popularity during the pandemic and is here to stay is the use of QR codes to enhance the in-store shopping experience. As consumers flock back to your stores, engage them as they browse the aisles with QR codes they can scan on their smartphones to find details, recommendations, or special offers regarding the products on your shelves.
Don’t ignore your online channels
Reopening your doors is a big endeavour, but don’t expect it to replace your online marketing, sales, and engagement efforts. As much as people miss being able to visit a store in person, shopping online remains convenient, fast, and enticing for many shoppers, especially in the lead up to Christmas
In particular, shopping via social media channels increased in 2021, with 84% of retailers who sell online reporting that they either already sell on social media or plan to this year.
Think about the role of your brick-and-mortar store versus digital channels such as your website and social media platforms. These may have swapped places in the post-pandemic landscape as far as how your consumers engage with your store. You may find customers are more likely to visit your online channels for casual browsing or expect you to be present on their social media feeds with product recommendations and suggestions. Leaving their homes to visit a brick-and-mortar store may be reserved for more specific transactions, such as click and collect to pick up an order they’ve already placed; to try on clothing or test out furniture with a goal in mind, or to seek customer service for a particular need.
Keep both your digital and physical doors open
Opening your brick-and-mortar store doors does not mean closing your virtual doors. Consumers expect retail businesses to reopen physical stores while retaining an active online presence.
While many people want to return to in-person shopping, a majority of shoppers enjoy the convenience and experiences that online channels bring. They want the best of both worlds.
For retailers this means taking an omnichannel approach and keeping a focus on creating seamless brand interactions between in-person and online channels. Live events and in-store sales can be a great way to attract people to your stores, but be sure to incorporate an online and offline experience moving forward. Run with technology trends, such as livestream selling, to help people reconnect with the in-store experience, and continue to invest in your online channels, particularly social media marketing.
As a retail store owner, it will be important to set your own pace for increasing your in-store capacity. Rather than shifting all resources from your digital channels to your brick-and-mortar locations, consider a gradual capacity increase to balance your staffing, inventory, and supply chain needs with a continued focus on your online efforts.