New York City allowed brick-and-mortar retail stores to open back up at the end of June. As the month went on, more and more shoppers ventured out, masks in place, to see just what it is like to shop in-person in these (still) uncertain times.
Overall, the stores did a good job of adjusting and acclimating to our collective new normal—but not every execution was pitch perfect.
Take a look at the highs and lows I spotted around town in the past month. While no one wants to go through another worldwide event like we’ve experienced this year, retailers should always be willing to try new tactics that give shoppers a better in-store experience.
First, let’s see what some stores did particularly well.
The Good: Let us know you’re open.
It sounds simple—and it is! Especially in areas that rely on foot traffic (which could be any store, anywhere), stores that easily confirmed that they were, in fact, open proved to be really helpful. (Not all were at first, even after restrictions were eased.) Whether it’s a banner, a window cling, or a good ol’ fashioned sandwich board, stores like Champion, Bed Bath & Beyond, Zara, and Sephora give shoppers an upbeat welcome that draws us in and gets us in a good mood.
The Good: Remind us of what’s required.
Navigating the new in-store shopping normal isn’t all that difficult, but it is different from what we were used to, pre-pandemic. Let us know your mask policy and safety protocols. Remind us to social distance and that your fitting rooms are closed (sad). This tells us not only what we need to be aware of, but lets us know you’re in command of the situation, which allows us to let our defenses down a little so we feel safer.
The Good: Keep us moving in the right direction.
Some stores, like Target, Zara, and H&M, decided to suggest a flow for their foot traffic, while others didn’t. Recommending this (and giving us reinforcements for where to go) can help alleviate those awkward deer-in-the-headlights, momentary mental tussles that happen when you lock eyes with another shopper heading in your direction and wonder who’s going where. (It also helped me learn that I, 100% of the time, will always naturally go against the prescribed path, if left to my own devices. I’m sure this says something about me?)
The Bad: Are you open or not?
This one’s actually Really Bad, and there were way more offenders than just the H&M examples shown above.
Once restrictions were lifted in late June, it was nearly impossible to confirm which stores would actually be opening up again and when. There have to be at least 10,064 ways that stores could’ve alerted me, a devoted shopper who’s a member of their loyalty programs and has downloaded their apps, to their impending status: emails, text messages, app notifications, smoke signals, tweets, or info listed out on an updated page on the site or within the app. I’d even answer a robocall to get that info! I didn’t see or get any of that.
We know that lots of things were going on internally for retailers from March until the end of June, but… stores that surely had to be SO READY to get in-store shoppers back into stores seemed to do NOTHING to let us know that we finally could shop in person. Stores had an opportunity to not only do that, but to get us EXCITED about coming in again.
Even Apple Maps and Google Maps information was conflicting (not updated). Not good.
The Bad: Get to the point.
I missed you, too, West Elm and H&M, but am I really going to stand here for 17 minutes and read your magnum opus in a 10-point font size about what you’re doing and what’s required of me? Keep it brief… please. I’d rather get to shopping!
The Ugly: Can’t touch this.
This one’s just rude. “Touchless Shopping” is like a “Smell-less Bakery.” A “Color-less Sunset.” A “Beat-less Rihanna Song.” If you’re unable to get clear about what carries risk and what doesn’t, or if you’re unwilling to properly wipe down or sanitize your merchandise at somewhat regular intervals (even the NYC subways do this!), you should probably just keep your large, heavy oaken doors closed until the pandemic has ended and we’re all dancing in the streets again.
Do you know what they call a “touchless shopping experience”? Online shopping. The thing that I’m trying to get away from. Don’t tease me, West Elm. Experiencing your products with sight, sound, smell (yes, I will smell your products sometimes, don’t you dare judge me), and TOUCH is why I’m in your physical store in the first place.
Let’s hope our current state of affairs is just a once-in-a-century blip and that stores won’t ever have to prepare another Pandemic Retail Reopening Signage Kit during our lifetimes. But if they do or—God forbid—if we have to do this open/close dance again in the coming months, hopefully we all can learn how to do it a little bit better next time. It’ll be good for my stress level and bad for my wallet, which is very good for all the delicious little stores I’ve audited (for professional purposes only, of course) over the past month.