The new reality for non-essential retail: Can the store experience survive?

COVID-19 caused a major shift in the way we shop. Stores deemed not essential were closed and those that remained open were drastically altered. It was a difficult task to go to the grocery store. You had to wait in long lines, wear masks and keep your distance from other customers.

These restrictions can feel uncomfortable as retailers open stores that are not essential. Customers are used to taking their own time in an enjoyable experience. Although shopping for toys, cosmetics, and clothes is a great escape, customers may soon find these experiences less enjoyable.

Retailers must provide experiences that are not only safe, adaptable to changing conditions and enjoyable for customers in order to keep them engaged.

Building Trust Through Safety

Many retailers have increased safety measures beyond limiting the number of people allowed in a store and keeping them away from the entrance. Sephora and Costco encourage customers to wear masks. Apple and American Eagle Outfitters will take customers’ temperatures at their doors. Hand sanitizer will be available at all store entrances and exits. Stores will also be regularly cleaned. The actions taken to protect customers who are anxious about shopping in stores may make them more loyal.

Contactless Shopping Accelerated

For years, retailers have experimented with contactless shopping. The Amazon Go store and Sam’s Club’s Scan & Go apps both reimagined store experiences. COVID-19 increases the possibility of contactless shopping in the interests of safety. It is important to understand where touch happens during the shopping experience and replace it with touchless options. This includes apps that allow customers to search for product information, which reduces the need to touch the products; apps that alert associates to customer queries; payment via an app or tap; and robotics that deliver items to customers. Kroger and Walmart have explored robotics and automation in warehouses. This can reduce human contact.


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Creating Delight

Augmented reality (AR), which can add a sense of play and discovery to the shopping experience, can also enhance safety. AR wayfinding can be used in stores to direct customers to the right item, and offer savings as they shop. The ability to virtual try on apparel, jewelry, and cosmetics can reduce browsing time and help consumers find new products. Sales associates and robots can source products from the back of the store in showroom environments. Digital tools that are connected to customer profiles can be used to make smart recommendations. This allows the shopper access to the best products quicker and creates genuine value.

The Store Format can be repurposed

For retailers that offer omnichannel services, the ability to adjust the store’s layout quickly could prove vital. A portion of a store’s space can be used to allow store employees to order online. Online orders can be fulfilled efficiently by dark stores, which allow retailers to quickly get products to customers and save space.

Shop for Personal Items Virtually

Online shopping may be easier if retailers consider the grocery picking model. This is where sales associates pick items for customers. A virtual personal shopper can help customers with non-essential retail items like cosmetics or clothing. They can also offer advice and suggest items based upon customer profiles. These personal shoppers could provide high-quality service remotely, which would keep customers and associates safe.

A path of uncertainty but full of opportunity

The future is uncertain in many ways. If stores keep focusing on safety, will customers become more impatient with this new reality? Will people turn to online shopping more often? It will be interesting to watch how retailers become more adept at selling customers online. Or if they will prefer the convenience of shopping in a physical location.

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Simon, Mall Owner and Authentic Brands Place $305M Offer for Bankrupt Brooks Brothers

According to a court filing last week, SPARC LLC, a full service retail operator that includes the U.S. mall owners Simon Property Group (ABG) and the apparel licensing company Authentic Brands Group, has submitted a $305 million offer for Brooks Brothers. According to the court filing, the offer is subject to higher and better bids as well as court approval. It will allow Brooks Brothers stores to remain open for business at least 125 times. According to the filing, a court hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 3 to approve the bid. Other competing offers must be received by Aug. 5. August 11th will see the Brooks Brothers assets being sold. WHP Global, which is a competitor to ABG, is also considering a bid for Brooks Brothers’ assets, the company said to CNBC. Brooks Brothers applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors. It had 250 locations across North America at the time. The iconic retailer had been struggling with rent and was forced to close its locations. A disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 accelerated the sales process.

Total Retail’s View: Last week’s announcement is not surprising. As America’s largest mall owners, Simon, are looking to make deals to save retailers that were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. CNBC reported. The problem of empty storefronts is becoming a growing concern for mall owners. J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and J.Crew are just a few of the many people who have filed for bankruptcy protection, along with Ann Taylor parent Ascena Retail Group. Simon and ABG worked together before. ABG, which is an expert in manufacturing and licensing, has joined forces with Simon, who specializes in retail real-estate. The court has yet to approve the offer. Before SPARC was created, ABG and Simon merged in 2016 to purchase the teen clothing retailer Aeropostale from bankruptcy.

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