We are currently facing one of our mightiest struggles, and COVID-19 is changing our world as we know it. But we are learning a lot from this pandemic, including our need to connect and the importance of being creative and adaptable.

The same can be said for businesses, especially retailers. As we continue to navigate the current state of our world, we must also look to the future. What trends do we anticipate coming out of this pandemic? What will “normal” actually look like?

Prioritizing health and safety

There is no doubt that customers have become much more focused on safety from risk of contagion. Many protect themselves with masks and gloves—a trend that will likely continue. Given the increased focus on health and safety, customers will look to differentiate between retailers that engage in safety measures and those that don’t.

Those retailers that invest in a janitorial program—keeping their stores regularly cleaned and sanitized—will show customers that they are taking health and safety seriously. Many may also invest in additional measures to further protect both customers and employees, like installing HVAC equipment with HEPA filters and UV lights as well as controlling humidity levels to increase indoor air quality.

Outfitting your stores for social distancing

An unfamiliar term until recently, social distancing and the need to keep a 6-foot distance at all times has become the new norm. But it’s not up to just the consumer to ensure they are keeping their distance—businesses must put procedures in place to promote social distancing. Many essential businesses have already installed safety shields and floor decals, and other retailers will likely follow suit as they begin to open.

We expect to see an increase in touchless amenities, such as automatic doors, closed perishable goods containers, foot-operated door openers, and motion-operated bathroom equipment. A good example of this future trend can be seen at Amazon Go, the automated grocery chain by its namesake, that uses scanning, mobile payment, and self-check-out—all which minimize the customers’ physical contact with store employees.

Curbside pick-up and your exteriors

Retailers and customers alike are realizing the value of curbside pick-up, drive-through, and delivery options. They appreciate not only the health and safety benefits, but the convenience. Many retailers may choose to extend these offerings, perhaps permanently. With fewer customers entering your stores, there is more pressure on your exteriors to represent the best of your brand. Investing in landscaping, signage, and parking lot design and maintenance can help ensure your customers have an outstanding experience, even if they never step foot inside.

Exceptional in-store experiences

At no other time has the retail industry been impacted more by a prolonged absence of trade, where businesses deemed non-essential were mandated to close shop. This, at a time when e-commerce was already gaining ground to replace physical brick-and-mortar shopping. As stores begin to re-open, retailers will have to work harder than ever to get customers through their doors.

Creating an outstanding customer experience will be crucial. The in-store experience needs to be much more than just shopping, including ways to keep your customers engaged with interactive displays and brand personality. Keeping your stores properly maintained and operating efficiently will be essential for drawing customers in.

We will never be able to reverse the effects of COVID-19, but retailers can prepare better by embracing an omnichannel approach and updating facilities to deliver goods and services in a touchless, safe environment. At SMS Assist, we want to partner with you to adapt to—and even get ahead of—these changes.

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