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Non-essential retailers are reopening on 15th June after nearly 3 months of lockdown. So what will the return to retail look like? 

Multi-location department stores and multi-chain retailers will reopen their stores in phases. First to open will be stores that are larger in size to allow for easier social distancing, and those that are located regionally in places where footfall can be more easily managed – shopping centres, out of town retail parks – rather than densely populated city centres 

The priority for all retailers is implementing procedures that protect staff and customer’s health. With store capacity limited, customers will get used to queueing up before being allowed in. This can be managed by technology, as demonstrated by the virtual queues, 3D body imaging and automated queuing systems introduced by some supermarkets. More simply, members of staff will conduct headcounts as customers enter and exit at the door. Pre-booked appointments will be encouraged – perhaps an easier crowd control method for smaller boutique stores to action – and customers will utilise click and collect to minimise queuing, especially where collections can be made outside. 

Safety measures will be introduced in-store. Clear signage will remind everyone of hygiene policies. Floor stickers will mark appropriate social distances, customers will follow one-way shopping routes, and plentiful supplies of hand sanitiser will be present throughout the store. Customers will become accustomed to completing contactless cashless  transactions from behind Perspex glass at till points. 

Some store groups will operate adjusted trading times, in response to expected lower demand and to keep staff safe. By opening later, staff can travel to work outside of rush hour. By shortening opening hours, the number of shifts per day are reduced so that fewer employees will be in store at any one time. “Safety first” rota planning means that staff in larger stores will work in fixed teams – limiting “cross team” contacts, reducing the risk of store-wide infection and making it easier to activate isolation and contact tracing if a team member becomes ill. Staff members will wash their hands after every customer interaction, disinfecting products touched by customers will become a key duty and intensive cleaning will be regularly scheduled. 

Retailers will need to think creatively about how to safely replace experiences that were central to beauty purchasing, such as makeovers and consultations. New tester policies will be enacted, sachet sampling will be required, and beauty consultants will hone their no-touch consultation skills. For retailers that can afford to do so, investments into AI and AR technology to facilitate virtual “try on’s” will become essential. Live streaming and virtual consultations that became part of lockdown life will continue as the store becomes an arena to make sales online.  

Reports have shown the dire impact of lockdown on an already challenged retail sector with double digit sales figure drops recorded and gloomy outlooks posted for the rest of 2020. Trends that were prevalent before the pandemic have accelerated faster than expected, particularly the growth of online sales and e-commerce’s rapid displacement of traditional retail. Online beauty sales surged through April and May with e-tailers hitting triple digit growth across various metrics and a stream of exciting new brand launches for a captive home audience. At home haircare has been an online category success stories during lockdown and that should continue, at least until salons reopen in July. It will be interesting to see whether categories that suffered most – such as make up – pick back up as restrictions ease and a summer of social distanced socialising awaits.  

Will people actually want to visit stores after a considerable amount of time spent spending money from the comfort of their homes?

Insights from international markets that have already reopened retail suggests that footfall will not immediately return. Anecdotally, my impression is that some people will visit shopping centres for a change of scenery and something to do other than go for a walk or binge watch Netflix. However, will they have money to spend with so much economic uncertainty and near record levels of low consumer confidence?  

The success of online suggests that beauty fans will continue to spend money. To make sure the spend is in store as opposed to online and diverted from supermarkets that have taken market sharebeauty retailers need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their safety measures to build customers confidence that going into their stores is a minimal risk. If they do, it must be a risk worth taking, with compelling experiences that customers cannot get online, excellent customer service, and exclusive brands only discoverable in store. 

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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