We have been living in the corona crisis now about 2-3 months. This crisis stopped nearly all the face to face business activities and created a world that on the other hand is full of fear and on the other hand is really creative and producing new digital ways to replace face to face business. It is a no-brainer to say that digital solutions and webstore is going to make a giant leap after the crisis has been solved. People working in retail and in hospitality too, are thinking hard, what is the future for face-to-face service and activities in physical environments. This is great and I hope that we can be as creative in this process as we have been in creating digital solutions to enable retail continuation also in lockdown time.

However, we often have quite narrow view, when we want to create fast solution to the problem. Most of the solutions and ideas concentrate in developing safe, hygienic and touchless stores, that have a heavy message of safety. Do not get me wrong: safety is an important issue, but many ideas concentrate on technology. The solution should be much more than just plex-glass shades, people counters, one-way movement and what have you. The important thing is to remember that it is a question of people and how they feel and encounter retail.

First of all, if we want to get the people in to the physical store, why we communicate in many ways that it may be unsafe? The more we say that this is now safe environment, the more customer thinks that this may be unsafe for me. If the customer starts thinking this way, she probably goes home and starts shopping digitally – which she thinks is safe. When we develop new safety features, they should be implemented as part of the customer flow and communication should increase customer’s confidence and comfort, not create negative corona-related reminders. I have to emphasis that retail needs stronger safety measures, but we have to think how we communicate and present those. Do the retailers want red-lights and queues for the customer? Are they not uninviting? We have other solutions for controlling customer flow, like visit by appointment only.

Secondly, if people feel that visiting in the store is very controlled and they are guided as cattle through straight routes, where is the retail experience? We all agree that online will have much bigger share in retail, so the physical stores must offer something that the online stores cannot. For example, the visit by appointment can be part of the experience. Customers could visit the store in their own group and get privacy and emphatic service from skilful sales assistant. The environment should also be different than the current stores. Why we still design our stores like they are storage rooms, with long lines of products on the shelves? The best way to display large selection is in the webstores, since customers can customize the view by using different filters. The retail stores should offer impressive visual displays, atmosphere that includes all senses and even exclusive service. If the customer is looking for large selection and good price, then solution is webstore. The experience should be owned by physical retail.

Thirdly, we people are social animals. Most of us have experienced some kind of lockdown and we have respected the physical distancing due the crisis. The stores – and restaurants too – should offer some way of social encounters, respecting safe distance, but in a very considerate way. Social shopping was popular already prior the crisis and it will be more so after the crisis. Maybe one new retail concept could be a hypermarket or mall, changed to social shopping arena, which combines social shopping and restaurant, having good enough physical distance for safety. There could also be an event platform to provide some entertainment.

Every crisis is an opportunity. This crisis is a strong boost to the digital channels, home delivery and all kind of digital solutions. This can also be an opportunity to physical retail to re-think its role and strengths.

We need safe stores to secure the customers that they are worth of visit. We have to create a confident, comfortable and great retail experience to the customer so, that she does not have to think that is the visit safe for me. Finding the best solutions is not just technology or hardware. It is a lot creating a safe feeling and good communication. It must be also enhanced processes in keeping the environment clean and hygienic (actually, it should be this way already).

Let’s hope that we do not see the kind of safety requirements table in front of the store as there is in a building site in the picture.