Shopping has never gone away – despite the challenges of COVID-19, most of us can find whatever we need (or want) online.  But what is missing is the pleasurable experience of browsing before we buy.   In a recent survey of what small thing people miss the most, I was surprised at how often grocery shopping was mentioned. Why? Because many of us enjoy the act of making personal choices, and being tempted by something we see.  

The pandemic is temporarily turning us all into hunters instead of grazers.  But many of our customers are undoubtedly looking forward to the day when they can consider their various purchasing options in person.  They want a chance to browse through an assortment of merchandise, or shelves of books in the library, before making a selection.

Hopefully many of our stores will reopen at least partially in the next month or so, although the full return to shopping as we once knew it may have to wait until the development of a vaccine. We need to be aware of the fact that whatever browsing experience we can provide will make our customers happy.  

Right now our shop is doing curbside pickup of items ordered on our website, and we plan to continue this as buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) when we reopen. This procedure brings in some dollars, and satisfies the “hunter” needs of customers who know what they want. But in order to make the “grazers” happy, we are going to need to offer a relaxed, welcoming environment when we reopen.  That may mean opening by appointment to small numbers of people, a system some stores are finding works for them. Or it may mean limiting the number of customers in the store at one time in order to avoid crowding. Both options reduce the risk of exposure for customers and staff while inviting shoppers to look around.

Enticing visual merchandising has always been one of the factors that makes browsing enjoyable, so you’ll want to freshen your displays before reopening.  Remove testers and other items that invite excessive touching as an additional safety precaution. Use signage to provide pricing and background information about products so that shoppers can learn about them without more handling than is necessary.

The important thing to remember as you have customers coming back into your store is that you need to create a relaxed atmosphere.  In the pre-pandemic era, it was a given that customers could take their time.  We’ve gotten used to serving the hunter who knows exactly what she’s going after.  It’s going to take some readjustment to welcome the grazer back, and allow her the comforting experience of browsing.

Happy Retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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