As stores start to reopen, it is worth remembering the scale of the decline; since footfall on the UK high street began to fall on March 12 when the Government raised the risk from moderate to high, it bottomed at the mid -80%s, a flatline that continued from March 27 to early June. Now, with the general reopening in full swing, retailers will be trying to balance access with security.
Based on lockdown behaviour and our footfall analysis, we can see certain habits forming that may well last for some time to come, notably that consumers avoid shopping when they think it will be crowded, as they have to stand in staggered queues. Also, more consumers will shop during the week because they are still working from home; where they are shopping at the weekend, their activities are highly directed at getting through the list rather than seeking entertainment.
In response, for all the pressures facing the UK high street right now, it will already be clear to consumers that retailers have risen to the challenge. Eager to offer the same seamless and personal experience that they did before the pandemic, retailers have had to impose a range of safety measures that threaten to disrupt any concept of business as usual.
Their first and perhaps only priority will be to ensure that their customers are safe. Socially distanced queues, sanitisation facilities, contactless processes and payments, advisory and way signage and new operational procedures for staff are all in place as a legal condition of reopening.
At the same time, retailers are trying to offer services that complement how consumers were increasingly behaving before the pandemic, behaviours that have come to the fore during lockdown. For instance, forced to convert almost all of their shopping to on line, consumers will now look for much greater integration between on and offline. So retailers will need to ensure their click and collect facilities are both seamless as well as safe. And collection may not be made in store but at the kerbside as consumers feel safer having orders put straight into the boot of their cars, and they don’t have to come into the store.
Some retailers have already gone further; recognising that queues outside stores are inevitable, the shop window has undergone a revival as a beacon of desire, enabling customers to shop on line for something they see as they pass. The added benefit is that they do not need to touch stock in the store.
Based on these new behaviours, retailers will need much greater visibility into what is happening in store so they can plan and adjust accordingly. The three key areas are inventory, occupancy and loss prevention.
Are the items customers want available in-store? Inventory visibility is now more important than ever
Most retailers are holding excess inventory and will be looking for the most creative ways to reduce it without excessive discounting. It will therefore be critical that they know exactly what they have in store, its status (particularly if some has to be quarantined) and therefore how it can be best merchandised, labelled and priced. This may include deeper insight into inventory using RFID, all visible to staff through hand held devices.
This level of inventory insight will also be important if retailers are to help customers already stressed by post-lockdown life, to find exactly what they are looking for.
Real-time occupancy data for visibility of store capacity
No one can yet accurately predict what shopping patterns and behaviours will emerge – which will be temporary and which will be permanent, so it is vital for retailers to monitor and understand real-time occupancy so they can adjust accordingly.
As behaviour patterns emerge, retailers will rely on occupancy data to determine what changes they can safely make to ease the shopping journey for customers. For instance, can queueing systems be altered to allow more people into the store if dwell times turn out to be shorter as consumers shop more deterministically?
Data can then be used to communicate via SMS and POS system alerts when full occupancy limits are close or are falling, so that cleaning payment areas, shopper basket storage areas, and Buy Online Pick-Up Instore (BOPIS) counters can be scheduled with minimum disruption to both customers and staff. Data also leaves an audit trail so that stores can demonstrate compliance to head office and local authorities.
Occupancy data enables retailers to adjust staffing levels so that the store costs do not get out of hand, but at that same time that customers are well served.
Loss prevention visibility- Protect your customers, protect your assets
Safety in the post-pandemic world also means the securing of stock, balancing easy access for customers with visible deterrents against theft. This also enables retailers to protect margin in valuable inventory as they work through the backlog.
Contact ShopperTrak if you’d like to know more about our Occupancy, Inventory and Loss Prevention solutions