As the retail industry comes to terms with a range of fundamental challenges that no one could have foreseen, retail expert Richard Hyman of Ergonomic Solutions shares his thoughts on what the lasting impact will be.
In the past retail has largely paid lip service to customer and staff welfare, but the tide has shifted and this is now at the top of the agenda.
This is illustrated in the way our new normal only allows a small number of people into a store at any one time.
An unavoidable consequence of this will be a severe reduction in the number of transactions that can physically take place in a day and it is hard to overstate the economic significance of that to a retail business.
In-store technology can provide a differentiator
Mobile technology – and mPOS solutions in particular – have a part to play. The hard bit of retail is to persuade someone to buy something. The execution of the transaction then needs to be as slick, quick and as uncomplicated as possible.
mPOS enables those upstream interactions to include the final payment transaction, taking them away from the confines of the traditional point of sale.
With the contactless limit currently raised, those transactions can also now be frictionless and therefore quicker, without physical contact or queuing.
For transactions at the static point of sale, technology will need to be mounted and enabled to accommodate the use of screens.
These simple measures driven by technology will provide greater peace of mind for all involved as we restart trading again
These simple measures driven by technology will provide greater peace of mind for all involved as we restart trading again. They will also provide a blueprint for how these interactions may take place in the future.
Ergonomics has a part to play
Once the dust settles, the look and feel of the store environment and the technology used will take on an even greater importance.
The physical experience of going shopping must be vastly improved
You want an ergonomic layout that is accessible to all and engages more with the customer in the broadest sense – that includes customer interaction points, such as visual displays, and applications using technology to guide and inform.
Retail in the UK is the most polarised in Western retail. At the value end, customers expect a no-frills experience, while at the premium end, they expect an exciting, comfortable experience with great service.
The ergonomics of the store layout should reflect that. It is the squeezed middle that will have to work hardest to create an environment that gives it some differentiation.
Retail must get better at retailing
Right now, retail faces an existential threat. Not so long ago, retail had the monopoly of putting the product and the customer together.
However, brands no longer require retailers to find their customers; they can do it themselves.
Retail must get better at retailing. It must properly engage with customers. Most retailers are too big. They have too many stores, with too much floor space and too many products
Retail must get better at retailing. It must properly engage with customers. Most retailers are too big. They have too many stores, with too much floor space and too many products.
They have diluted their engagement with core customers in the pursuit of peripheral ones.
My hope is that there will be a much leaner retail industry, an industry that is much more genuinely focused on its customers
My hope is that there will be a much leaner retail industry, an industry that is much more genuinely focused on its customers, that treats its staff properly and acknowledges that its store staff and managers are kings of the game.
They are the people to whom you entrust your precious brand engagement with customers.
If you treat them well, and pay them well, then they won’t leave so often and the whole thing becomes a virtuous circle, rather than a vicious one.
If that happens, then the phoenix will have risen from the ashes.
Richard Hyman, retail industry expert and non-executive director of Ergonomic Solutions
Click here to read an extended interview on his thoughts about the post-Covid-19 world.