Retailers have wondered how the COVID-19 pandemic will shape the future of retail stores, and that concern has intensified with the approach of the holiday shopping season. Online platforms have steadily increased their share of holiday shopping well before the pandemic, and data indicates that there will be a dip in holiday spending altogether in 2020. COVID is a big contributor, as 51% of respondents to a Deloitte survey on the retail season reported feeling anxious around the in-store experience.
Anxious or not, shoppers fatigued with shutdown orders are seeking retail therapy. The retail sector has already recovered to 50 percent of its pre-COVID levels. As marketing firm Zenreach puts it, this recovery despite consumer anxiety is a strong testament to the quality of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. However, ensuring your brand gets a sizable slice of in-store traffic despite the overall smaller pie will require adaptability. Retails will need to make the shopping experience safer and connect those efforts with shoppers’ experience in the retail environment.
Safe Shopping During the Pandemic
Retailers large and small are taking steps to make their in-store environments safer. Nevertheless, those extra requirements are taking their toll on both workers and building systems. As a result, there are some areas where retailers may need to adapt as we approach the winter season.
1. CLEAN SMARTER
Retailers are quickly stepping up cleaning routines, following CDC guidelines for cleaning and surface disinfection. Just as critical, however, is taking steps to ensure your already-overstretched employees aren’t feeling the burden of this added work. Asking more will increase staff burnout.
While some retailers may outsource cleaning work to professionals, others may find they can save on costs — while better supporting their staff — by investing in new tools. Automating some portions of the surface cleaning routine can reduce the time spent on the most monotonous cleaning tasks. In some cases, autonomous tools can also more consistently ensure a thorough clean. And, in the case of Whiz, the autonomous vacuum sweeper from SoftBank Robotics, developed and distributed in partnership with Brain OS and ICE Robotics, a subscription service also makes this choice cost-effective.
2. ADDRESS VENTILATION AND FILTRATION
Reducing viral load in the air through ventilation and filtration has proven to be key across all environments. Retailers may consider working with an HVAC contractor to rebalance their heating and cooling system to take in higher rates of outside air in accordance with ASHRAE recommendations. If you’ve already done this, it may be time to touch base with your contractor again to address lower temperatures in many parts of the country.
Filtration — or cleaning the air of potential viral particles — is another important step. Your HVAC contractor may recommend more protective filters at the source of heating and cooling. Regular vacuuming of hard surfaces with a HEPA filter-fitted vacuum adds another layer of protection by capturing these miniscule viral particles and the dust and dirt to which they cling.
3. RETHINK FLOW
Wider aisles, one-way aisles with arrows to direct traffic flow, and mobile checkout stations are some best practices for retailers working to support social distancing measures. Connecting the in-store and mobile experience, such as through wayfinding apps, is another step to make the in-store experience more efficient and more attractive to shoppers.
4. TOUCHLESS SOLUTIONS
The National Retail Federation’s recent State of Retail Payments study found 67% of retailers surveyed now accept some form of no-touch payment. That includes a 69% increase in no-touch payments in the first eight months of 2020 alone, an indication that touchless solutions are key for shopper’s comfort. Retailers are now looking to expand contactless solutions. This ranges from smart mirrors that let shoppers “try on” clothing options to contactless sales experiences.
Marketing a Safe Shopping Experience
Basic cleaning enhancements are expectations for consumers, but how you handle these expectations can have a major impact on your in-store traffic. Anxious consumers want information on how their favorite brands are proactively addressing the pandemic so that they can feel secure in their retail experience.
5. PROVIDE TRANSPARENCY
Clear communication around your best practices for keeping staff and shoppers safe is critical. That includes posting “last cleaned” times or bringing activities once performed solely after-hours to the forefront. Today, clean should be part of your brand. For example, when cleaning is performed during business hours by a collaborative robotic assistant, shoppers get instant insight into how your brand is leveraging innovation.
The flow of information should also emphasize shopper convenience. For example, grocery retailer Wegmans has installed outdoor cameras at high-traffic stores to track foot traffic. That information is shared online with customers to help plan their in-store visit.
6. EDUCATE CONSUMERS
Education around proper mask-wearing and social distancing is a strong part of retailers’ social responsibility. Focusing this education around how your brand is committed to customer safety is a strong part of your brand’s story. Connecting your marketing teams with facilities teams can help tell your brand’s story of how you’re ensuring safe shopping in today’s new normal.
Sharing data around store cleanliness becomes even easier when working with a tool like Whiz. The autonomous vacuum sweeper tracks the square footage vacuumed each day and keeps a log each time a space is vacuumed. Whiz also provides analytics and actionable insights, and provides customers and employees a visible proof of cleanliness.
Contact SoftBank Robotics to learn more about how automated cleaning technology can help your brand boost confidence in your retail environment.
Data has never been more powerful — or more practical — as companies prepare for a safe return-to-work. Navigating the uncharted waters of a global pandemic, company leaders have had to make difficult decisions with the information available to them. Now, as case counts in the U.S. break records on an almost daily basis and promising vaccines meet critical milestones, the question of when and how to bring employees back to the office is top-of-mind for business leaders, and data is helping them prepare more effectively.
Written By: SoftBank Robotics Team