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What will the post COVID-19 store look like?

When we think of retail, we picture hustle and bustle, shoppers pounding the pavements, people struggling to find a parking space in their local shopping centre.

Now, we are faced with a very different picture. Pitt Street in Sydney is eerily quiet, the majority of retail is closed, and there are no crowds of people excited to part with their contactless cash.

The biggest challenge retailers are facing right now is the uncertainty around the duration of this lockdown and how consumer behaviours are shifting during this time. The COVID-19 clock is ticking, but for how long?

 So, let’s think for a moment, how are you spending your money right now? Toilet paper jokes aside, the statistics show a significant increase in spend on groceries and essentials and a notable decrease in non-essential spend. This isn’t new to us, but what I’m more interested in is the discussion around the medium in which consumers are spending in our current status quo – online.

As all of our customers are sitting within the four walls of their homes, established online retailers are well placed in this scenario. The mobile phone is really our only connection to the outside world right now, so our interactions through this little device have intensified.

 Now imagine being on the other side of this. It’s a new world. We’re re-entering society. Gingerly, we might dabble in a coffee at our local, sitting in. The next day, we might head to the shops, walking across the threshold of our favourite sports retailer for the first time in three months.

At the front of the store, we are prompted to sanitise our hands, and as we glance to the floor, the social distancing decals guide us to continue the rule of 1.5m distance from other shoppers. Messaging exists everywhere, welcoming customers back into the store and introducing them to new offers, and product displays present as more spacious for ease of hygiene. When the customer wishes to pay, this is possible by scanning products and paying through their online store, preventing unnecessary contact exchange with a checkout.

After what could be months of behavioural change, we will be faced with a very different customer. This new-world customer is now more comfortable with online transactions, fewer real-life interactions, and trained to constantly sanitise in public spaces. This, of course, may fade out, but some of these behaviours, habits and trends will stick. The physical store will be forced to change; it will need to be a strong enabler for online shopping, allowing for a much more seamless back and forth, with savvy mobile shoppers expecting faster, more convenient and smarter transactions.

 In China and Japan, stores are already set up as highly tech-enabled, allowing the customer to shop in-store but at the power of their mobile device. Product information could be discovered by a quick scan of a QR code; customers could roam the store purchasing products as they scanned, paying for it in the moment via WeChat.

The unseen advantage of a shopping experience that is powered by technology is the collection of data. In this period, where customers will largely be shopping online, there is an opportunity to capture more information about their shopping habits, trends and motivations, that can later serve to inform and guide more relevant customer experiences in-store. It is my prediction that we will witness a fast forward of technology-led retailing in Australia post-COVID-19 – and traditional retailing as we know it will cease to exist.

Jemma Caprioli is chief customer officer at print company, Dashing Group.

This story first ran in Inside Retail Weekly. Given the current crisis, we have decided to unlock all premium content related to COVID-19. If you would like to support Inside Retail, please consider subscribing here.

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