Making Sense of Shopping

From today non-essential retail stores are allowed to open. For the first time in 12 weeks, shoppers will be able to see the products they covet in glorious 3D.

From today non-essential retail stores are allowed to open. For the first time in 12 weeks, shoppers will be able to see the products they covet in glorious 3D.

Of course things will be different. There’ll be queues, Perspex barriers, hand sanitiser stations and multiple strips of hazard tape. But perhaps the biggest change of all will be the ban on touching.

One of the key distinctions for bricks & mortar shopping versus online is the ability to touch the products – whether that’s trying on an outfit, playing with a piece of tech or just feeling the quality of material between our fingers. If retailers want shoppers to visit their stores, they need to think of new ways to entice them in.

As touch is only one of our five physical senses, it stands to reason that if retailers can provide a positive experience for our other four, they will be 80% of the way there – and after 12 long weeks of lockdown living, I suspect that will be more than enough.

This is the time for retailers to invest in their visual merchandising – from how their mannequins are dressed to their end of aisle displays, wall art and ceiling installations. Screens showcasing product adverts can add energy and inspiration, and lighting can improve visual appeal. Staff in clothes stores should be encouraged to wear the retailer’s most popular lines – letting customers see what the clothes look like off their hangars.

Hearing has been an under-appreciated sense within many stores for years (guys, muzak isn’t the answer). Carefully selected music is brilliant for lifting people’s moods, which is particularly relevant at the moment, and different genres can calm, energise, inspire and/or connect people very effectively. Staff have an important role to play in hearing too. Their informed and personalised responses to unique customer questions, delivered immediately, will always be more valuable than their online equivalent.

It’s easy to think that smell is limited to bakeries and florists, but Lush has practically built a brand on the heady aromas that waft around its stores. It’s important to consider how smell can improve the shopper experience irrespective of the product range – for example, coffee and vanilla are regularly voted within the top 10 of favourite smells, and they’re both easy to create in-store.

While sampling may not be possible in its traditional format, offering something delicious for free can be very welcoming for shoppers. So perhaps the question should be: How do we provide this promotion safely? rather than dismissing the idea out of hand. The grocery sector – from budget supermarkets to artisan stores – have seen increased sales during the pandemic, and shoppers are likely to appreciate little acts of generosity such as free tastings and giveaways now.

While a proportion of consumers will be nervous about shopping again in the current climate, others will be raring to go. By focusing on a multi-sensory shopper experience, stores can deliver the retail therapy that so many of us crave.

It’s been a tough few months for the retail industry and we wish everyone the best of luck for this next stage. Our field staff are currently completing the Mash Covid Ready training module so that we are able to support all our clients at this pivotal time.

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

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