Brick-and-Mortar Rethink: 5 Areas to Reconsider
As we navigate the unknown, and slowly prepare for phased regional openings across retail doors, brands and retailers alike can lean in on learnings from the fast and dynamic changes grocers have made to impact efficiencies and create environments that increase safety for the customers they serve. It’s also a time to think “outside the traditional four-walled box.” Some solutions may be shorter term band-aids, but many will define longer lasting modifications in store layouts and store design.
What's clear is that our consumer behavior and shopping patterns are forever changed. As the months unfold into summer, fall and then our holiday season, we will continue to learn how this unprecedented time has impacted our shopping experiences. There will be some positive changes that will be expedited as an outcome. As we've seen over the past five years, retailers/brick-and-mortar stores have been evolving to be more efficient, more experiential, and more innovative at highlighting brands within their space. "Luxury” cosmetic items will need to be re-strategized as well as clothing, shoes and other accessories. Below are five areas that retailers will need to consider as they re-engage with customers.
Flow and Signage
Stores will need to be laid out and designed to circulate flow in a more fluid way. Shorter term this may mean one-way corridors as we've seen in supermarkets, but longer term creating wider aisles that expand capacity for safer two-way traffic passage will be a more realistic solution. Wayfinding will also be key in providing comfort and guidance to customers in knowing they're in a compliant environment and have clear communication on how to navigate space.
In planning for reduced density within stores, and a continued requirement of six feet distance between consumers, floor maximation will have a new equation. There will be a need for a more data-driven prioritization toward items that are need-driven, those that are top-sellers, and/or those that truly require an offline environment. Sampling will also need to be re-evaluated and substituted with single-use, disposable options. Trying on of clothing, shoes and accessories may also need to be realigned in the short and perhaps longer term. It may be that there need to be signs around proper hygiene etiquette and disinfecting of items after “try-ons.” Thinking through these health measures and advertising such precautions could differentiate your store brand in a socially conscious gold-star spotlight. We’ve already seen how empathetic and aware brands have risen to the top this past month.
When assessing how to create experience per square foot, our minds will need to shift up and towards how we can use walls, ceilings and lighting to create immersive experiences that aren't as reliant on touch. Longer term the investment in modular wall systems that fluidly allow brands and retailers to flex space as needed will also be crucial in creating adaptive space.
Utilization of Storefront Windows
The forced adoption of order-ahead and curbside pickup is reconditioning shoppers to accept “the drive-up window” experience. Relying on the sidewalk alone for this new way of transacting will have limitations. Flexible windows that can dual purpose as points of pickup and opportunities for customer-staff interactions will grow in value.
The Front of House, Back of House Split
Seamless delivery, order ahead, and buy online, pick up in-store are going to escalate the needed shift of front of house, back of house space allocation. Short-term make-shift walls and curtains can help divide and test space needs, but ultimately the mind-set around back-of house needs and efficiencies will be king in order to make the package journey as reliable as possible, ensuring customer satisfaction.
Adaptability will be key towards a successful return to brick-and-mortar. While physical environments drive human connection, we will need to deliver stores that feel safer and are optimized to be experiential in a different way — a way that’s not solely reliant on touch. Stores will need to be inventive and more purposely integrated with online-offline capabilities to layer on both experiences and efficiencies.
Melissa Gonzalez is the founder of The Lionesque Group, an award-winning firm of experiential retail strategists and pop-up architects™ as well as a principal and shareholder in global architecture firm MG2, and author of "The Pop-Up Paradigm: Building Human Connections in a Digital Age."
Melissa Gonzalez is the founder of The Lionesque Group, an award winning firm of experiential retail strategists and pop-up architects™ as well as a Principal and Shareholder in global architecture firm MG2, and author of The Pop-Up Paradigm: Building Human Connections in a Digital Age.