Many brick-and-mortar stores were closed for several months due to the outbreak of COVID-19, which occurred in February 2020. The government then issued stay-at-home orders. As orders expired and restrictions were eased, retailers reopened their stores with safety precautions in place to protect customers from contracting the coronavirus. What is their performance in this area? NAPCO Research has released a new report entitled Retailer Readiness – COVID-19 In-Store Safety Index.
Beginning in mid-July 2020, NAPCO Research conducted an in-store review of 100 top retailers‘ COVID-19 measures based on 29 unique criteria, including signage, safety messaging, traffic, technology, and friendliness/experience. It compiled a list of top 25 retailers based on overall score from the in-store research.
Best Buy topped the rankings with 82 percent of the possible points. Its strengths lie in safety and traffic categories. This includes measures such as having employees clean high-touch areas after every transaction.
Ulta Beauty received 80 percent of all points awarded to Best Buy. Cosmetics retailer Ulta Beauty changed long-standing practices, including the end of product testing and concealing makeup samples. They also used floor stickers and arrows for smoother traffic flow to ensure social distancing.
Urban Outfitters came in third, scoring 78 percent of all possible points. It used signage to both inform and move shoppers from one end of the store to another.
The report includes key findings from in-store research, as well as rankings. These are just a few of the key findings.
- The New Normal is Masks: Nearly all retailers – 90% – scored high on signage that promoted face coverings and enforced compliance for both shoppers (96%) and employees (100%). Some retailers also encouraged confidence by requiring store associates to wear gloves and clean high-touch areas following transactions.
- Low-Touch with Contactless and Curbside. More and more retail stores are using technology to make customer transactions easier (81 percent of them offer contactless payment) and allow customers to pick up their purchases. 29 percent of retailers invest in order management and inventory systems to make it easier to buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS), and have curbside pickup.
The report also provides retailers with concrete steps that they can take in their brick-and-mortar shops to create a welcoming and safe environment that encourages customers to return. These are just a few of the tips in the report.
- Regularly replace, update and supplement in-store signage. Some stores were only reopened for a few months or weeks, while others that were essential remained open through the pandemic. Signage that was functional in a pinch might now be faded or damaged.
- Start by disseminating information on your website’s homepage. This can be easily found and linked from there. It will include details about your COVID-19 safety measures. You could include a mask requirement, contactless payment options, curbside pickup availability and a link to the local store hours.
- You should spend more time and money on employee training. Store associates need to be able to locate items quickly, help shoppers and open additional registers safely if customer lines get too long or socially distant.
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Get the Retailer Readyiness: COVID-19 In Store Safety Index today to get more insight into how retailers prepare their stores for safe returns of in-store shoppers.
How Design Within Reach brings the In-Store Experience Online
COVID-19 is proving to be both an extraordinary challenge and a huge opportunity for furniture retailers. Before the pandemic, online furniture purchases were becoming more popular. The category saw a nearly 20% increase in spending. As millions of Americans are stuck at home, looking to invest in their homes, this shift has been even faster. This forced retailers to rapidly scale up their ecommerce offerings and come up with creative ways to keep their employees on the payroll. Virtual shopping services have been a solution for retailers such as West Elm, BoConcept and Ethan Allen. They connect online customers to associates in the nearest retail store.
Design Within Reach (DWR) is a brand that has had great success using this approach. DWR was able to launch a virtual shopping site in a matter of hours after its stores closed in March. This launch is made easier by knowing the history of the brand and its emphasis on design excellence. Rob Forbes, the founder of DWR, and his team, have focused on education and taste-making since the brand’s inception over 20 years ago. They also share the history behind each piece and the people who made it. This philosophy is evident in DWR’s customer service approach. You can see it in the relaxed atmosphere of the “studio” and do not touch signs. Friendly design professionals are available to help you with anything from decorating a room to furnishing a whole house.
DWR partnered with HERO(r), to launch its virtual shopping service. It was quickly launched to all DWR stores and 150 of the brand’s highly-trained associates. This team quickly generated nearly 750 virtual consultations per day, which translated into hundreds and thousands of dollars in sales. The service has been a huge success in the few months that have followed its launch. Shoppers who use it are 31x as likely to purchase than shoppers who don’t. Their average order is 25% higher. DWR’s parent company Herman Miller launched its virtual shopping service immediately based on these results.
DWR’s program rollout provides valuable insights for other brands seeking to duplicate its success. The pilot program included a virtual training session for associates that covered best practices in retrieving chat messages, initiating video calls and engaging with customers online. Video calling has been proven to increase sales by up to twice as much in all product categories. DWR was enthusiastic about the feature and helped customers visualize how it would look in their space.
DWR offered extended hours of virtual consultations even though its stores were closed. This was to make sure customers could be reached at any time during the day. It also allowed associates who worked remotely more flexibility and continued to sell while they were away. A rotating schedule allowed associates to visit their local stores one at a while through video calls. DWR’s success was also dependent on employee buy-in. All levels of the company were aware of the results from the pilot program. Associates were eager to know when the program would be available in their stores after seeing the high volume of sales from their colleagues.
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Although many stores around the globe have reopened, there are two things that are certain to continue: Consumers are spending more time at home and prefer to shop online for furniture and other home-related items. This profound shift has made virtual shopping a priority for smart retailers.
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