How retailers can make physical shopping more convenient

Lockdown restrictions are lifting in the UK. While the reopening of non-essential stores is a point of celebration for retailers, in-store shopping is not back to where it was yet. Ongoing restrictions have changed the relationship with physical retail, however with ecommerce still under considerable pressure and delivery times extended, there is room for stores to be the convenient option. It's up to retailers to adapt the way their stores work to put convenience front and centre.

Use other channels

Shopper journeys have changed as a result of COVID-19. At present, customers are typically making fewer journeys to stores and focusing on more 'mission-based' shopping. As a result, click-and-collect is no longer a nice-to-have service. It has become a crucial operational element for physical retailers looking to serve current customer needs. This has seen click and collect expand into new areas of the retail sector in the quest for convenience. For example, traditional convenience stores typically cater for small, regular purchases which are often unplanned or last minute. In the US though, 7-Eleven is reimagining what this convenience means in the current climate by giving customers the opportunity to order and pay for what they want in advance.Shoppers can use the 7NOW app to place an order for collection at their nearby 7-Eleven. They are then given an 'order ready' time to go in and pick-up their goods. At that time, they can walk into the store, skip the queue and collect their order in a matter of moments. It cuts down time in store, but also the browsing element that characterised convenience store visits in the past. It's a great example of how retailers can use their other channels to make sure that the store experience serves customer needs. But it also shows that there's room to bring new services to sectors that were designed with different customer journeys in mind.Another interesting approach to multichannel shopping is happening in Brookfield Properties shopping centres in the US. It has teamed up with Fit:Match to offer a new contactless shopping experience at three locations. These centres will each host a Fit: Match studio which uses 3D body scanning technology to gather 150 data points about a customer's body in under 10 seconds. An artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm then offers up a personalised selection of clothes that will best fit that customer. Shoppers are able to browse these suggestions via their smartphone which means they don't need to go into stores and touch clothes during the current pandemic. Equally though, the system removes one of the key challenges of buying online by telling shoppers the size that will best fit them. This again reduces the need to touch and try on clothes - and the over-ordering of multiple sizes online.

Rethink browsing and buying

Browsing and buying are tent poles of physical shopping. Many people choose to go into stores rather than buy online purely to discover new things, be inspired and to try before they buy. Those journeys have become more challenging in the current climate. But that doesn't mean that physical retailers can't continue to meet these customer needs. It just requires a shift in approach.Moss Bros is one of a number of retailers who have introduced private shopping appointments. This is an extension of the personal shopper service that we've seen for years - primarily in the high-end and luxury part of the industry. Private shopping appointments allow customers to receive expert guidance on what to buy, as well as see products in person before they buy, but without the worry of shopping alongside lots of other people. There's also an opportunity for retailers to use these appointments to help customers discover new products, brands and styles that are personally suited to them. This could be enhanced through data gathering in advance via other channels such as sharing social media profiles or filling in an online survey.Likewise, retailers like Nordstrom and M.M.LaFleur have models around pre-browsing that could become the new convenient. Nordstrom enables personal stylists to curate a collection of clothes for a specific customer which can then be shipped to a Nordstrom Local store to try on. M.M.LaFleur does something similar allowing customers to turn up and try on pre-selected styles.In both cases, customers can do the initial discussion and style discovery elements in advance from home, which helps reduce time spent in store and increases the chance of them finding something they love. If they do want to buy something it can be shipped to them at home so that store stock stays in the store and can be subject to proper cleaning precautions.

Partner up

At the moment convenience often comes down to proximity in the case of physical retail. Customers are prioritising stores that are in walking distance, or reachable via a short car journey, rather than getting public transport or making long journeys. Equally, with so many people working from home or not travelling, areas that attract a lot of commuters and tourists are much quieter. This can make things a bit tricky for retailers who don't have a large store portfolio or tend to be located in places that aren't close to residential areas.However, physical retailing doesn't just have to be about a retailer's own store portfolio. A number of companies are partnering up with another retailer who has assets in locations that they don't have an existing presence. For example, John Lewis is expanding its click-and-collect partnership with grocery retailer Co-op. This service was already offered in 105 Co-op stores, but it will now be available in another 400 across the UK. As such, John Lewis has been able to more than double its click-and-collect locations. This means that it now has a physical retail link with a far larger potential customer base than via its own stores alone. The partnership makes shopping with John Lewis more convenient for people who don't live near a John Lewis store. This is especially the case in smaller communities as John Lewis stores are typically large format spaces which don't fit into locations outside high streets and retail parks. Whereas Co-op stores tend to be smaller format and integrated into more residential areas.Meanwhile, Sainsbury's is bringing its branded products to Dobbies garden centres. Starting with Edinburgh, over 3,000 Sainsbury's products will be available from across fresh, frozen, ambient, chilled and household. Again, it's about giving Sainsbury's a presence in places where it wouldn't normally be. It's also a smart move given the jump in visits to garden centres, which means a large audience, and the tendency for customers to make fewer shopping journeys as this means they can fulfil their grocery needs without going to another store. It's offering convenience through combined shopping journeys.Convenience is about giving customers what they need when they need it in a low friction way. The very first physical retail stores ticked those boxes by introducing a new model for buying. It's time for retailers to evolve that model and ensure that their leases give them the flexibility to do so.


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