Covid-19: Retailers shouldn’t forget about experiential shopping

Retailers must not forget about creating in-store experiences, despite the current Covid-19 restrictions.

Over the last fortnight, retailers have been getting used to the 'new normal' of in-store shopping, including managing queues and discouraging customers from touching products they don’t intend to buy.

This sanitised shopping experience is a far cry from the interactive in-store experience retailers have been encouraged to deploy in recent years. Covid-19 has put an end to experiences aimed to engage with customers and increase dwell time, from in-store exercise classes to stores that feature a slide to get from one floor to the next. But with shoppers still nervous about the idea of shopping on the high street, retailers need to keep thinking creatively about how they can engage with customers in a way that makes them feel safe.

Speaking on a recent Essential Retail webinar, Iona Carter, founding director of Tracer Insight Consultancy, said physical retail needs to continue to “counter balance” the transactional experience shoppers receive online.

“I think it’s still important in those early days that retailers work as hard as they can to deliver that engagement beyond constantly reminding people that they need to keep safe.”

While she agreed that health and safety is clearly important, she pointed to the retailer Lush which is including experience within the limits that shopping is currently under. Instead of being welcomed with a clinical bottle of hand sanitiser at the entrance, customers are asked to wash their hands with a samples of Lush soap and water in a sink as they walk through the doors.

“We’ve got to add a level of experience to shopping even in these early days.”

Click here to watch the Essential Retail webinar ‘How do we get Britain shopping again?’ sponsored by Avoira.

Speaking alongside Carter on the virtual panel, Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, said 2020 will be about browsing “with your eyes and not with your hands”, but he doesn’t think this means the evolution of retail – in particular, using digital and physical to drive brand loyalty and conversion – will disappear.

While New West End Company believes central London will have 30% fewer retailers in the next five years, he believes those who are left will be “even more experiential”, particularly in the big city centres.

“This year is about cash and survival, but the structural shift will only accelerate in the next year or two.”