The coronavirus pandemic is fundamentally changing the way people shop; not just now, but for the foreseeable future. And as with any seismic shift, opportunity abounds.
Shoppers are making fewer trips, but those trips are list-driven, faster and more calculated. And they’re resulting in bigger baskets. Even in c-stores, shoppers are making fewer visits, but spending more. The pandemic is also accelerating certain behaviors, like the increased adoption of online shopping, home delivery and click and collect.
More and more, the rapidly evolving in-store retail experience is now about shopper demand for safety, security and efficiency. While some large retailers are responding with cashier-less checkout models that focus on convenience and efficiency, others are taking a more blended approach by improving the experience without losing the human touch.
Across the board—from corner convenience to grocery to big box retailers—everyone is grappling with the same question of how to improve the front-end experience for today’s shopper and the future, without simply chasing the next “shiny object.”
“The front end has been a focus of optimization for years, as retailers balance the dual pressures of building in convenience and experience for shoppers, and maintaining profitability,” says Gina Peterson, Sr. Manager Retail Experience with The Hershey Company. “But, these broad, new behavioral shifts among shoppers are prompting retailers to reconsider what investments they have to make now to avoid falling behind.”
The keys to those decisions lie in discipline, balance, and data-driven insights.
Retaining shopper loyalty by meeting evolving shopper needs
• 60% of shoppers say a positive front-end experience is critical to loyalty.
• The front end can be 10 times as profitable per square foot as the remainder of the store.
These facts might suggest that wholesale front-end changes are a necessary investment, but retailers can take a phased approach now that improves the shopper experience over time. For example, simple queuing strategies can vastly improve the shopper experience, while maintaining profitability, as stores offer more self-checkout options.
“Conversion is linked to experience,” notes Peterson. “People want a good experience and to get through the store quickly. But retailers also want to create points for engagement, too. Finding organizational solutions, like a master queue for self-checkout or merchandising around pay-points, can offer a great experience without sacrificing engagement.”
Ensuring a positive experience by balancing functional and emotional principles
David Nolen, Hershey’s VP of Category Management and Shopper Insights, notes that it’s a difficult balancing act. “In our longtime effort to help retailers nationwide, we’ve developed a comprehensive understanding of the front end and total store, as well as a deep knowledge of how people shop across channels. That holistic understanding has enabled us to put together queuing recommendations that balance functional and emotional principles to ensure the positive checkout experience shoppers demand.”
Front end engagement is critical, Nolen says, since occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time, and a significant amount of a shopper’s in-store time is spent at checkout.
The keys to engagement at checkout are:
• simple navigation
• branded elements
• an active environment
• the core items shoppers expect to find at checkout
Nolen says ultimate success requires a modular approach that will enable ongoing flexibility to meet consumers’ changing expectations.
Functionally, Nolen says, the queue should be intuitive so shoppers can easily determine where to enter, wait and advance to checkout. Queues should ensure social justice – meaning shoppers know who is next to check out – while also providing clear sightlines. At the same time, shoppers should be able to engage with products on either side, with categories that require more dwell located in the beginning and categories with more impulsivity toward the end.
But solutions don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package.
“We make recommendations according to a variety of criteria including location,” reminds Nolen. “What works for a store in an urban setting, may not be the same solution for a suburban setting, for example.”
Finding success in this rapidly shifting environment – and reinventing the front end – requires an intelligent investment founded in sound, relevant, timely insights based on the channel, the market, and the competition. It must seamlessly connect the in-store and online experiences. And it must always be centered wholly on meeting the shopper’s needs and expectations.