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Defining the “New Normal” for Brick-and-Mortar in a Post-Coronavirus Retail Landscape

As many states begin to loosen social distancing guidelines and move towards reopening their economies, retailers are beginning to prepare for a return to physical retail.

By Hilary Krutt

As many states begin to loosen social distancing guidelines and move towards reopening their economies, retailers are beginning to prepare for a return to physical retail.


During our recent Retail Beat webinar, we discussed best practices for reopening brick-and-mortar stores, featuring experts from Sunglass Hut and Mall of America.


The Sunglass Hut Safety Checklist


Both Sunglass Hut and Mall of America are following stringent safety guidelines as they gradually begin to welcome customers back into stores. While nobody knows what the new normal will be, ensuring both consumers’ and store associates’ safety and health has been the top priority.


Sydney Stinson, Sunglass Hut’s VP of Marketing, shared a list of measures that have been put in place across Sunglass Hut’s physical retail locations as a guide for other retailers looking to follow suit:


  • Maximum capacity of four people in all stores
  • Customers are asked to wear a mask, with extras on hand for those who do not have one
  • Social distancing markers in place to help customers maintain a six foot distance
  • Store associates must wear a mask, as well as gloves when they are cleaning product
  • Special trays for customers to use when trying on glasses, with thorough cleaning between try-ons
  • Stores are cleaned multiple times per day with a focus on high-touch areas
    Contactless payment available at checkout


Listen to the Experts—and to Your Customers


At Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, plans to reopen the 4 million square foot shopping center and entertainment destination at 50% capacity are underway for June 1. With over 400 retail tenants and 10,000 employees, mallwide best practices will help to create a unified experience for guests. The specifics of this strategy align with official health and safety protocols issued statewide.


According to Grant Buntje, VP of Marketing at Mall of America, “We’ll learn a lot from our guests’ behavior once we reopen about what they expect from their shopping experience, and we want to arm our independent retailers with this customer data. Above all, we want to communicate that we’re here to support the community when they’re ready to come back.”


For Sunglass Hut, stores have begun to reopen—and early sales numbers have been encouraging. As the brand moves towards reopening the bulk of its physical retail locations, Stinson echoes Buntje’s sentiment: “Our leadership team has embraced the fact that consumer behavior—how they respond and what they respond to—will be paramount to future decision-making.”


Reimagining the Digital Customer Journey


Of course, many customers will remain reluctant to visit brick-and-mortar stores for the foreseeable future. A growing number of consumers are beginning their shopping journeys online, which means that retailers should focus on an omnichannel approach to customer engagement. From launching curbside pickup to engaging with customers over text or chat, creating a seamless shopping experience is paramount.


For a retailer like Sunglass Hut that has traditionally relied on the in-store experience to seal the deal with shoppers, meeting this need is challenging—but not impossible.


“We’re exploring all types of opportunities to help consumers navigate the ecommerce space without having to physically come into the store. Virtual try-ons are one example,” says Stinson. “The role of digital is going to be more critical than it’s ever been before, and we want to streamline that customer journey.”


Recreating the Joy of Discovery


Even as retailers move to level up their eCommerce sites and digital marketing practices, the in-store experience will remain a vital part of the retail ecosystem.


“Since we closed our doors in mid-March, we’ve heard from so many in our community about the experience of shopping in-store,” says Buntje. “Shopping online fills a need, but people miss the joy of discovery. As retailers we have to capture that moment.”


For now, retailers may have to settle to a certain extent for replicating that experience digitally. But for brands that have traditionally relied on brick-and-mortar sales, there are signs of progress: Stinson notes that sales at Sunglass Hut’s physical locations have steadily picked up, and shoppers are increasingly looking to update their wardrobes for summer.


Both Buntje and Stinson commented on how vital it has been to swap insights with fellow retailers during this unprecedented period. Stinson has observed that brands have been overwhelmingly open to sharing insights, even with their competitors.


As Buntje puts it, “At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to figure out the right thing to do for our customers, our employees, and the community at large.”

About the author
Hilary Krutt

Hilary Krutt oversees all content strategy and creative copywriting efforts at Quadpay. An avid reader, she kicked off her career in the publishing industry and has since led editorial efforts for a variety of clients across healthcare, higher education, and retail as well as in the insurtech space.