Adapting Your Retail Space for COVID-19

The pandemic has fundamentally changed consumer behavior, and retailers need to adapt to survive, and reinvent to thrive. While shifting to e-commerce has been a priority for most businesses during these days, and rightfully so, business owners still need to focus on their physical space to complement their online presence and ensure a safe and enjoyable customer experience.

Here are four ideas to help you do just that.

Get a handle on the numbers

As the old saying goes, “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Before you rearrange your retail space and make other adaptations, you need to know things like the maximum number of occupants legally allowed your store, peak traffic hours and traffic flow, and your top-selling merchandise. Once you have a grasp on these elements, then you can plan accordingly.

For example, consider placing your bestselling merchandise at the front of the store where it’s immediately visible to customers and setting business hours that correspond to peak times.

Traffic flow

If you can map out your customer’s typical journey, you may want to experiment with placing stickers or decals (on brand, of course) on the ground to ensure customers have a sense of how and where they should be moving inside the store.

These graphics will not only provide clear messaging and help direct the flow of traffic but also enable you to get a better idea of the number of customers inside.

I need my space…

One of the most pleasantly surprising shopping experiences I’ve had so far this pandemic was my first trip to Costco. I’d been putting off the trip for a while based on my traditional experiences with this retail behemoth: packed parking lots, long lines of shopping cards and countless hordes of shoppers.

What I forgot, however, is that Costco’s layout features open areas and wide aisles—the ideal setup for today’s consumer and reality. Despite the usual throngs of customers and over-sized shopping carts, the whole thing worked. In fact, the primary source of stress for patrons appeared to be the absence of free samples…

The reality is that your customers need their personal boundaries and they need to feel safe. Tight spaces and butt-brushing were unappealing before the pandemic, and now they are considered outright health risks. Proximity to other shoppers, tight spaces and clutter will cause uneasiness and prevent customers from coming back.

Even if you have a small space, you can do things like use tall shelves to create the impression of space and create space by moving inventory to the back and online.

Restaurants: A special case

Restaurants have a different set of challenges: dining out is a longer proposition, so there is more opportunity for people to feel uncomfortable. These feelings are well founded: according to the CDC, the more an individual interacts with others, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of spread. Consequently, restaurants need to do everything they can to help patrons relax.

A few ways to do this include limiting overall capacity (and offsetting lost revenue by prioritizing takeout), installing clear signage and directions to guide the flow of traffic, and focus on outdoor seating.

Outdoor seating is an important consideration. According to Zagat’s “Future of Dining Study,” outdoor seating is the most important factor that may increase the likelihood of customers dining out.

As the fall approaches and northern parts of the country start cooling down, extending the dining-out season will be key. Portable heaters, comfortable furniture, greenery between tables (dual purpose—acts as a partition to encourage social distancing and serves as a windshield), and even blankets will keep diners cozy and have them eating out well into the fall months.

Lastly, make sure that (1) staff wear their personal protective equipment properly (a face mask worn like a beard net is unlikely inspire confidence with your clientele) and that (2) your hand sanitizer is pleasant on the nose.

The takeaway

Whatever your approach, keep your changes consistent with your brand. You want your customers to feel like it’s the same store and the same style. If you’re playful, be playful. And don’t be overly sterile.

Organize your space to make the experience intuitive and enjoyable and create a comfortable environment. People are stressed enough as it is—they don’t want to spend their time in a store trying to figure out where to walk and how to avoid other people.