The past year has seen most of us refrain from unnecessary physical contact with others and gain an acute awareness of our responsibilities toward sanitary practices such as cleansing routines and mask-wearing. It has also affected our business landscape, with retailers of non-essential goods being hit particularly hard. Those who have been able to weather the storm have had to rethink how they can safely interact with their customers.
For retailers that operate from physical premises, the package of measures will generally need to include a remodel. Stores that result in customers and staff being in constant proximity, or are difficult to keep clean, are no longer fit for purpose. Even beyond the immediate needs of our pandemic, customers are likely to demand retailers in our new normal maintain the same high standards of safety.
With stores seeing less foot traffic, now is an excellent time to start putting these changes into action. We’re going to take a look at where you should be focusing your remodel. What approaches best embrace safety while maintaining a consumer-friendly presence?
As with any project, your store remodel will benefit from forward planning. This can reduce the potential for wasting any time, materials, and money from mistakes you make along the way. By putting in a little extra consideration at the beginning, the process will also run more smoothly, and help you get the most out of your investments.
Your preparations should include:
- Site Audit
Make a thorough review of your current premises. Begin from the perspective of what obstacles consumers come across as they shop in your store. How do they interact with your services or merchandise? How can these interactions represent a health or transmission risk to consumers and staff alike? This audit should also review what the essential aspects of your store are and whether they must be in view of the public.
The planning process requires you gather as much information about your store as possible so that you can make effective adjustments. Take time to calculate the full square footage of your premises — including any storage areas, restrooms, and loft space. Make certain that you also take full and accurate measurements of your fixtures and fittings and make note of any irregular shapes that can complicate matters.
Not every store owner will be able to undertake a full remodel all at once. Consider what capital you have available at the current time and apply it to areas of priority. Make a long-term budgeting plan, keeping aside funds for each stage of your remodeling process.
- Interim Arrangements
While you are remodeling, you may not be able to allow customers onto the premises. Therefore, it’s important to plan how you can continue to serve customers — from a pop-up location, online sales, or click-and-collect option. Also plan for how you’ll communicate your intentions and changes to consumers.
Safety and Function
The key to any store remodel for the new normal is understanding how you can bridge the gap between safety and a functioning retail space. After all, a clothing store’s policy of keeping all garments behind glass panes might prevent unnecessary contamination through handling, but it isn’t exactly conducive to customers’ browsing and trying-on needs!
Some areas to consider should include:
Customers should still be able to keep a social distance of around 6 feet apart from one another. Design your remodel in a way that allows customers to browse items, while also allowing space for others to move around them easily and without contact. Don’t place display areas side by side if possible, though back-to-back can allow consumers to browse on opposite sides of the same area while maintaining distance.
- Use Displays
You don’t want customers to be handling items unless they need to, but they still need to be able to understand how they fit into their lives and get a good impression of the quality. Create displays that show each item to its full potential, and if possible how it should be used or worn using mannequins and props.
The coronavirus can stay on certain materials for days after contact. Organize your stock in a way that allows customers to access items with minimal handling. Taking a similar approach to that used in stockrooms can be wise. Keep non-display items in plastic packaging, create separate shelves or cubbies for each size or specification of similar items. This not only limits contact but also prevents unnecessary clutter from customers having to rummage through to find what they’re looking for.
Atmosphere and Appeal
There’s no escaping the fact that you need to remodel your store in a way that keeps everyone safe. However, this can very easily stray into the realm of the clinical. While customers want to know that you’re prioritizing sanitization, they also don’t want to feel uncomfortable while they shop. This means your remodel needs to find a balance.
Your approach could include:
- Exhibiting Warmth
We have all spent the last year keeping our distance from one another and avoiding contact. This can feel isolating. Though your store has to promote distance, leverage that with a warm and familial approach to design. Use lighting to achieve a more welcoming mood, arranging checkouts in a way that allows customers to have conversations with staff as soon as they enter the store.
- Enhancing Accessibility
Make sure that all customers feel accepted into your space. While you may need to put in place additional safety measures, take a universal design approach. This emphasizes the need for equitable use of your premises, flexibility for those with differing abilities, and that all information is perceptible. People’s challenges are varied, so research this and reach out to your consumers for their input.
Making changes as a result of COVID-19 is not always easy, but it can make your business a safer place for your consumers. Take time to plan effectively and thoroughly. Understand how safety and function should coexist and make sure that your design keeps your consumers feeling welcome.
Jori Hamilton is a freelance writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects and with over 8 years of professional writing experience, she has taken a particular interest in topics related to Business, Marketing, SEO Best Practices, and Productivity. You can follow Jori on her Twitter and LinkedIn.