How does shopping work in times of Corona?

Time to consume: 5 min
16 Dec 2020

By Claudia Horbert

Retail at a distance

The year 2020 is a COVID year for all retailers. Social distancing and masks have become part of the shopping experience. Therefore, the development of safety and hygiene concepts and their implementation at the point of sale, determined the work for store planning departments at big retailing companies in D-A-CH, at the beginning of the pandemic. While these measures were initially not planned as permanent features, it is assumed that safety concepts will accompany the retail trade for a longer period of time, and after the initial provisional arrangements, more optically attractive solutions are now being introduced.

Even though retailers are trying “to make the best out of things, and avoid the worst”, there is still a strong desire to return to “normal”. In the latest EHI study “Retail at a Distance”, one of the opinions from the store experts is that the protective walls create an undesirable distance to the customer. Most retail firms have therefore opted for highly flexible solutions which can – if necessary – be easily removed again.

Store planning departments at retailing companies currently see their concept work in a paradigm change – moving away from a store design that is free of all barriers between customer and staff, towards a POS that is characterized by safety measures and distances. Many of the community-orientated store concepts, which have been the hallmark of retail design in recent years, are currently under scrutiny along with many of the services and events with a near contact to the customers.

This also includes checkout solutions. Without any doubt, the corona pandemic has given an enormous boost to mobile payment solutions and self-service checkouts at the POS, mainly in the food retailing sector. However, the checkout area will remain very important for the interaction between customer and retailer. Hardly any of the retailers, to whom the EHI talked to during the last months, wanted to renounce this central focus point. But there have already been some interesting ideas to design the checkout area more flexible and service-orientated, e.g. by using additional mobile cashier desks in the selling space for better queue management or extending the checkout to a multifunctional service point similar to a hotel’s front desk.

It isn’t very surprising that the retailers’ own online stores profited from social distancing and closed shops during the lockdown. For many retailers whose shops were closed, this proved to be an important mainstay of sales. Online shops now have become an important part of the customer journey. Therefore, they need to be much more visible at the POS, via appropriate notices and the further expansion of the associated digital service, first and foremost Click and Collect, which also needs to be more clearly highlighted.

Nevertheless, the possibility for customers to be able to experience products directly and try them out in the store is still seen as one of the decisive strengths of bricks-and-mortar shops. Staging will become more important again, themes can and must play a more prominent role. During or maybe even despite the coronavirus pandemic, the bricks-and-mortar trade will in the future still be very much about the experience on location rather than the pure product assortment – with the store as a place of social encounter. People want to interact with others. They want to be entertained and distracted from their everyday lives. With a growing blend of shopping, gastronomy, living, and work, spaces and the way they are furnished and equipped have to become more flexible. Not only to allow one to switch from one category to another, but also between segments and areas. For the store planners, this means that they need to become more flexible, with a continued trend towards stage setting.

Written by Claudia Horbert
Director Research Store Planning + Design
EHI Retail Institute