As Restrictions Ease, New Survey Finds Retailers Preparing For a Permanently Changed Landscape

The reopening of brick-and-mortar is a welcome move for many retailers who rely on their physical outlets for revenue. But the combination of local compliance regulations, wary consumers and e-commerce growth has created some concerns about the future of stores, according to a new survey by digital signage solution Raydiant.

Of the 400 U.S. businesses surveyed, 29% plan to permanently close their physical stores in favor of an online-only channel. A further 14% intend to downsize the number of operational stores.

In the meantime, 56% are still currently preparing to reopen stores, after closing due to government orders; 29% have already reopened. And although 34% of respondents worried about being deemed by compliant with all local requirements, 75% still said that overall they felt prepared to open for business. Remodeling the space to support social distancing was reported by 29% of respondents.

The most consistently reported focus for brick-and-mortar businesses was an emphasis on the in-store experience. With more customers shopping online than pre-pandemic, there needs to be a clear value-add to bring them to shop in person. Raydiant found that 85% of those surveyed believe that these experiences would be important factors in a successful reopening, with 41% ranking “creating better experiences” as a top priority.

“Retailers deserve praise for their response to the pandemic, but praise alone will not keep stores open for long,” said the Raydiant report. “As the world begins the uncertain process of returning to restaurants, shops, and events, retail locations must focus on welcoming in-store experiences that complement a more online-heavy approach.”

One way they hope to achieve this is through investment in technology tools. A majority of store owners said they were considering new digital solutions; of those, the most common areas of investment were reported to be sales associate training tools (54%), in-store experience tools (50%) and tools to limit interpersonal contact (50%).

Shoppers wait in line to enter Forever 21 store inside the Dolphin Mall in Miami, Florida, USA, 20 May 2020. Dolphin Mall, the Miami-Dade County's largest retail shopping center, re-opens today with some restrictions as the mandatory use of the Face coverings by shoppers and employees inside the mall's common and retail areas and the limit of 50 percent of mall or store occupancy.Businesses reopen in Florida, Miami, USA - 20 May 2020
Dolphin Mall, Miami-Dade County’s largest retail shopping center, re-opened in May with restrictions like the mandatory use of the face coverings by shoppers and employees. Occupancy is limited to 50 percent.

This emphasis on store associates was reflected in the intention to rehire laid off or furloughed staff: only 12% of respondents expected their pandemic layoffs to be made permanent. However, 36% expected to reduce the number of staff per shift, making it more critical that those working are well-trained and supported by necessary technology.

Even as stores reopen, it is clear that retailers won’t simply return to their old ways. Raydiant found that for many of the respondents, emergency measures introduced during the pandemic have proved fruitful – so much so that they are likely to be made permanent. Roughly half of the retailers that implemented curbside pickup (21%) and delivery (31%) reported that they would keep these services post-pandemic.

E-commerce investments have also generated significant revenue, with 26% of respondents saying they don’t think they would have survived the pandemic without expanding into e-commerce. An additional 29% were unsure if they could have stayed in business without their DTC channel, while 10% reported making a majority of their revenue from digital sales.

“Retailers know they can’t just announce reopening and expect customers to flock back to their stores,” said the report. “People will continue to shop in physical stores, but only when those stores give them good reason to do so.”

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