Grocery and retail spaces have witnessed unprecedented change since the COVID-19 pandemic manifested in early 2020. New and evolving health and safety guidelines have prompted many stores to completely rethink the way they operate. This significant shift in how consumers live, shop and interact has placed greater emphasis on the health and well-being of individuals—both employees and consumers—leading grocery and retail stores to find new and inventive ways to support and enhance the customer experience.
There is a renewed sense of awareness surrounding health and wellness. Brands that can embrace that (in an authentic way) will go a long way in attracting and retaining customers. Retailers that were once primarily focused on the aesthetics and appeal of their brand now are pivoting to the health, safety and overall experience of their customers.
In addition to creating a sterile and clean shopping environment, companies are discovering other ways to instill a sense of wellness. Consumers who choose to shop in-store want to feel safe and protected. Offering additional self-checkout kiosks can make the shopping experience more convenient and safer.
Grocers also may choose to offer greater visibility into their food prep operations to showcase freshness and safe food practices. Flooring also can provide an additional layer of security with surfaces that are shiny, impart a clean appearance and are soft underfoot.
From advanced cleaning practices to ensure the safety of employees and customers to sourcing transparency and even healthcare solutions in-store, people are looking to retail and, specifically, grocers to provide a sense of reassurance and comfort. Businesses specifying flooring with characteristics that support these goals will deliver an enhanced level of customer service while increasing brand loyalty.
The new essential workers
Buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) is becoming an increasingly popular option for customers. In fact, according to RetailTouchPoints, 90% of retailers plan to implement BOPIS by 2021, while 78% rate integrating e-commerce and in-store experiences as important and business-critical.
With grocery stores seen as one of the absolutely essential services for consumers, employees of supermarkets and other big-box retailers are taking on the role of frontline workers. Grocery employees now must provide both traditional and evolving services while doing their best to maintain social distancing and hygiene protocols.
With some grocery stores turning into fulfillment centers, new services such as contactless pickup and online delivery services are keeping store employees on their toes as they race around to gather groceries for customers. These new mandates necessitate flooring with ergonomic properties that reduce stress on joints while offering a high coefficient of friction to mitigate injuries due to slips and falls under both wet and dry conditions.
Redesigning the stores with employees in mind not only helps to keep them safe and healthy, but it also can contribute to employee retention and, ultimately, greater customer satisfaction.
Convenience is king
With hospitals overwhelmed with patients, grocery stores and retailers are finding ways to offer wellness services where convenient for consumers. In fact, these “anchor stores” are transforming into healthcare support hubs, with services ranging from physical therapy and acute care to fitness centers and pharmacies. For example, big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target are offering these ancillary services to better serve their customers.
When redefining the store, retailers should take a closer look at existing assets and how they can be utilized to create flex-spaces. Using a variety of design choices and flooring finishes, these flexible floorplans can support multi-use facilities, such as seasonal stores and colocation spaces. Mixed-use spaces are becoming increasingly popular as businesses strive to create “convivence communities,” where people can live, dine and shop. However, these mixed-use facilities will require flooring with high acoustical properties to help minimize noise and disruption through the various spaces.
The post-pandemic world
Regardless of when the pandemic ends, it will continue to have a lasting impact on traditional brick and mortar businesses. Many retailers have already reimagined a variety of ways to support their employees and customers. However, the question remains: How do businesses keep consumers engaged during this new era of online shopping?
First, stores should continue to embrace experiential design. The convenience of e-commerce is driving retailers to offer interactive experiences that can’t be derived from an online purchase. For example, shoe stores that provide turf surfaces to try on athletic footwear place a great emphasis on performance flooring while helping increase in-store engagement.
Additionally, traditional malls that now lay dormant are being transitioned into sports facilities and gaming environments. Rethinking these spaces will give consumers a new reason to visit these outdated environments and have a different type of human connection that goes beyond shopping.
The future of flooring
Since flooring is the largest surface in any facility, it deserves greater attention. There are a variety of ways flooring can support the new spaces that will be created in a COVID-19 world. From taking care of grocery employees with surfaces that offer greater ergonomics and a superior coefficient of friction to utilizing experiential design to provide more intimate and interactive retail environments for customers, focusing on the human experience has become the new normal as we make our way through the pandemic and beyond.
The post-COVID-19 world will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders to fully integrate operations, facilities, design and construction to meet the needs of their brand, their customers and their employees.
Bo Barber is Executive VP of Sales and Marketing, and Clay Moore is Mideast Regional Sales Manager for Ecore.