COVID and Retail Environments – 5 Steps to Addressing Shifting Needs in a Changed World

COVID and Retail Environments – 5 Steps to Addressing Shifting Needs in a Changed World

Cast your minds back a few months – do you remember your first visit to the grocery store after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic? Mine was two days after the World Health Organization’s announcement. This also happened to be Friday the 13th, which seemed apt as I wandered somewhat anxious, somewhat bemused through a usually well-stocked store that looked like the apocalypse had occurred, and I’d failed to receive the memo.

Almost overnight, our lives changed, and the grocery store is a perfect example of this. To explore how people were feeling about their local store’s response to the pandemic, we ran three waves of a 7-question pulse survey (4/1, 4/16, and 4/20), speaking to 250 people across the US for each wave. Some of the findings are perhaps expected – after the initial issues around stock and figuring out adequate health safety, top 2 box rating of stores’ overall response went from 51% to 63% within a month. Similar increases occurred in stores’ ability to meet customer needs and confidence that they are taking appropriate safety measures.

More interesting, however, is the open-ended data collected from two questions asking what grocery stores are doing well and what they can do better. Through the three waves, a story emerges that re-opening retailers can use as a blueprint to guide their process. Here are five steps to help customers feel more comfortable in this new environment:

1) Implement Visible Health Safety Measures

Overwhelmingly customers are looking to feel and be continually reassured that their health safety is in hand; proper sanitation measures are in place, and that social distancing guidelines are being followed. For grocery stores that got things right, this meant meeting several criteria, from physical distancing to readily available hand sanitizer and wiping down of frequently used items, such as carts and door handles.

Spacing out people, cleaning surfaces, limiting purchasing of popular items, keeping cashiers separated, employees wear masks and gloves.”

Cashiers are wearing gloves. There is a screen between me and the cashier. One door is for entrance only and the other door is for exit only. There are wipes near the carts so you can wipe down the cart handle.  There are tape lines on the floor to remind people of social distances.”

 “Extensive disinfecting of shopping wagons. Plentiful hand sanitizer.”

The only thing they might do better is providing antiseptic wipes throughout the store more vs just at entrance. Even then, that could be overkill.”

These sanitation measures are visible signals to customers that their health is a top priority, and they can feel safe in the retail environment.

2) Care for Employees

Customers aren’t only interested in their safety but also for those of employees. There’s a clear sentiment that we need to take care of these essential employees both in and outwith the retail environment.

Employees should be provided with gloves, rather than them having to provide them on their own.”

Lead by example not because required by state – do what’s right. Allow fearful employees to take time off”.

3) Help Customers Understand the New Rules of Engagement

Stores and restaurants opening need to help customers understand the new ‘rules of engagement.’ Many grocery shoppers bemoaned the lack of clarity in how to move around the store or where to stand for check out. Participants wished that stores offered more guidelines on where to stand.

Make sure people actually follow the THIS WAY signs so that you are only going in one direction on an aisle.”

Better management of the flow (one-way aisles – half the people don’t pay attention to it and it can be frustrating).”

4) Closely Monitor Changes

As we can see above, changes to people’s typical experiences can be frustrating, so if a store or restaurant is trying something new, make sure that it is readily understandable to avoid dissatisfaction and keep loyal customers returning.

They are promoting their pickup by car no contact shopping, they’ve all kind of upside-down shopping carts and caution tape outside. That’s very confusing.”

5) Don’t Forget about Crafting Experience

Within all this, it is crucial to continue to consider the Experience that you’d like your customers to have. Health safety is non-negotiable, but think about what can be done over and above this. Are there specific groups for which to cater, such as seniors having priority during certain hours or on home delivery? Restaurants can consider accommodating groups of different sizes, from singles to larger families. Both stores and restaurants can think about having specific hours or events on different days of the week for different groups.

As stores, restaurants, and other environments open up, it’s vital to continually speak to customers, whether through a brief survey, online interview, or indeed a quick question as they move through the store or restaurant, to find out how you are doing, what can be evolved, and how to be better. As we can see from these findings, a little asking goes a long way!

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