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Excerpt from roundtable during Tango’s virtual retail summit The Next Normal for Retail Location Strategy on May 19, 2020.

Reopen Post-COVID

Shai Verma – Partner, Retail Technology, Deloitte:

“There are three facets to reopening stores: how do you prepare your store, how do you prepare your associates, how do you prepare your customers? What’s the experience you want to create for your customers as they come in and what messaging are you providing them in terms of your concern and care for their health and safety? What’s your general overall approach to this going to look like? That’s got to be very clear in your mind and then how you communicate that to your customers as they start coming back into your store.

“What’s the experience that you want to offer? This is a question that a lot of my clients are struggling with right now. One of my clients is a mattress company, a very successful retailer for 25 years, but they’re now having to rethink. The whole experience for them was to get people in the store looking for a $500 mattress and walking out with a $2,500 mattress – but it was really through the interaction with the store associate and trying the beds – they’re going to have to rethink that entire process in terms of how they sell their product. What worked before is not necessarily going to resonate for your customers going forward.

“The third thing on preparing the store specifically is the concept of an inventory location that a lot of our retail has been structured around. You’ve got the product sitting on the shelf, somebody walks in, picks it up, they check out, and they’re on their way out. But now, customers are starting to think, “I don’t want to touch something that a previous customer may have touched.” Now, it’s the concept of showrooming – that’s been in place for a very long time, a lot of retailers have definitely leveraged certain showrooming capabilities. But now, it’s going to start entering back into the mindset of, “I like what I see and I still want to have that visual/tactile experience,” but they’re not going to buy it there. They’re going to arrange for it to be delivered to their house. You have to rethink all of these elements of your retail operations.

“The second of those three reopening facets is preparing your people. You have to train your associates on what it’ll mean to interact with customers in the new normal. Certainly, in this transitory period where people aren’t quite comfortable coming back, you’re going to start seeing dribs and drabs of people walking into stores, but they’re not going to be sure how they’re going to interact with you, and you’re going to have to make sure your associates are aware of that and deal with people on a more empathetic level.

“One of the areas some retailers are starting to think about is to build a centralized team that can answer questions very rapidly that may come up in the field. You may not expect every store associate to be 100% familiar with every protocol that you, as a retail enterprise, have decided to roll out. You can certainly have centralized teams available to respond. Again, you have to really give your associates that safety net that they’re allowed to do what you’re expecting from them, but in that safe and clean environment.

“And then the last point is around your customers. They’re going to be tentative as they start poking their heads out their front doors and venturing back into the world that exists today. As much as we’re seeing a lot of noise that people are really anxious to get out and go back to whatever normal there is. Shoppers are going to be very different – they’re not going to beat a path to your door, as they say. So, you have to figure out what message do you want to provide your customers? What advanced notice can you provide them? “This is how we, as an enterprise/retailer, are responding to this situation and here’s how we’re going to make your experience as impactful as it ever was, but also paying attention to the COVID reality.” Those are things that every retailer, as they’re reopening stores, are really going to have to think through.”

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