1. Trends & External Forces

3 Retail Store Design Changes Post-Pandemic

There’s no question that physical retail has changed forever, thanks to the pandemic. Stepping into a store looks dramatically different than it did a year ago, and retailers will be adjusting their store experience long after COVID-19 has been contained.

The need to do so is confirmed by a recent study by First Insight, which finds that only 40 percent of consumers say they plan to shop in stores either the same amount or less after being vaccinated. As retailers re-evaluate their physical store spaces to keep consumers and employees safe, here are three design updates to consider:

Direct Traffic Flow

One of the most cost-effective changes is to rethink the layout and flow of your retail space to help guide consumers through a safer shopping experience. This can be accomplished with a mix of physical barriers and visual cues. At the entrance, set the tone for your COVID protocol by outlining your mask policy, sanitary practices, and other need-to-know information.

Adding protective barriers at checkout and marking where customers wait in line, implementing one-way systems, and reducing the number of products on display are simple options to implement. Crowd control ropes, commonly used at movie theaters, can be easily adjusted to changing store restrictions. Plexiglas is a must-have for counters and cash registers, but businesses are also getting creative. H.A.N.D. restaurant in Paris offers a Plexiglas lampshade-shaped dome that hangs over the heads of its guests.

Keep accessibility in mind with visual indicators. A mix of text and easy-to-follow graphics can accommodate those who are more comfortable with either method of identification. For visually impaired guests, ensure that staff can comfortably communicate these needs with ease.

Related story: What Consumers Expect From the Self-Checkout Experience

Invisible Extras

There was a time when providing customers with a “little something extra” meant a latte machine and cookies. During COVID-19, extras that mean more to customers may be invisible but powerful solutions such as better filtration and HVAC systems.

Most retailers will limit the number of shoppers in-store for the foreseeable future, and that certainly reduces exposure to outdoor air being introduced into air conditioning units. Beyond that, go the extra mile to ensure you have the most effective filtration and HVAC system possible for your space, both to increase humidity and lesson the spread of germs. Be sure to let consumers know about the improvement through in-store signage, marketing materials and social media. The one element that your shoppers can’t see may be one of the biggest improvements you can make.

Evaluate Your Furnishings

Now is the time to think about safety before style, and that means re-evaluating furnishings from entries and lobbies to dressing rooms and dining areas. Take the immediate step of reducing the quantity of seating and removing product racks and shelving from the middle of the store to help people stay further away from each other.

When seating is required, arrange your space with the recommended six-feet distance between sets of seating. For those who travel in groups, you’ll still have clusters of seats, however, it’s most impactful to keep “clusters” of seating restricted to just four seats. Use end tables and coffee tables to create extra distance between seats.

Take a closer look at your furniture to make sure that your upholstery and finish choices are designed to stand up to the harsh solvents needed to sanitize every surface. Choose durable vinyl over porous fabric and scratch- and stain-resistant laminate over wood or veneer. This further ensures that your pieces will last well beyond COVID-19.

Erik Nordstrom once said “Retail is a customer business. You’re always trying to take care of the customer, solve something for the customer.” Managing the new normal and maintaining store safety is simply the next stage in customer care.

Tonya Dybdahl is the space planning and design assistant manager for National Business Furniture, which designs and furnishes retail environments.

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