Business tips

6 ways social distancing is changing the way we shop.

By Ryan Gibbons on
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Since the onset of the great pandemic of 2020, virtually every aspect of life has changed. How we dine, learn, work, and socialize have all undergone drastic transformations. So too has the entire process of purchasing and paying for products and services.

Safety first.

Above all else, responsible consumers and business owners alike have come to focus on protecting the physical well-being of everyone involved in the transaction process. For business owners like you, achieving that goal often involves making changes to your location’s physical space to encourage the six-foot social distance standard. Ropes and barriers, hand sanitizing stations, frequent disinfection of public surfaces, directional signs, and additional counter space separating buyers from business owners are just some of the common strategies that are currently being implemented.

In many cases, business owners are taking further steps to protect employees and customers. Furnishing workers with disposable gloves and face masks, asking customers to wear face coverings, installing Plexiglass shields, and offering NFC contactless checkout options are just a few ways to make everyone involved with a purchase feel safe and protected. Incorporating this mindset into every aspect of your business will engender trust and loyalty during a time when fear and hypervigilance seem to constantly be on the rise.

Adaptability in shopping modalities.

In an era when state advisories and personal choice are combining to keep consumers at home (or at the very least reluctant or unable to shop in-store in the ways they once did) entrepreneurs are adapting successfully. 

Many stores are expanding their drive-up and drive-through capabilities or are offering these services for the first time. Consumers are now being given the chance to process payments over the phone and pick up their items “curbside” in the parking lot or have their goods delivered directly to their homes. Particularly in the restaurant arena, the popularity of home delivery, already expanding before COVID-19, has skyrocketed.

As a result of the pandemic, many people have had no choice but to work and/or study from home. An unintended consequence of this has been the realization that this new normal has definite advantages: lower fuel use, greater convenience, and increased efficiency. In this same vein of thinking, restrictions on malls, shops, and restaurants have convinced many customers that shop-for-me and delivery options like Uber Eats and Instacart possess an appeal that will last even after the coronavirus is no longer a threat.

Requiring that products are available on demand.

One of the cardinal rules of retail has long been to give the buyer what they want when they want it. Having said that, the pandemic has taken this rule to a whole new level. In their attempts to avoid infection, consumers are staying home a great deal more and are consolidating their trips when they do go out. That means now more than ever, you as an entrepreneur need to take steps to ensure that your inventory records are up to date so that popular items are always in-stock when they are needed.

Fortunately, modern technology eliminates the need for relying on paper receipts and error-prone human data entry. Today’s point of sale (POS) systems come equipped with robust inventory management software that allows products to be recorded via a barcode scanner and updated whenever a sale or return is made. As a result, customers can get what they need virtually every time.

Holding brands and stores to a higher standard.

The threat to their health has prompted buyers to expect more of the stores where they shop. They want to know how their safety is being safeguarded when they go into your shop or receive your products at home, but that isn’t all. In addition, many buyers require that companies demonstrate their conscientious, forward-thinking response to the pandemic in the form of innovative products and client-centered services. Some may even wish to only support companies that offer outreach and financial gifts to first responders, unemployed workers, and others directly affected by the virus.

Encountering products in new ways.

Before COVID-19, many industries relied upon in-person events such as trade shows and conventions to expose potential customers to their innovative products and services. Other businesses used the home demonstration model to make their offerings come alive to potential buyers. Because social distancing will render these models impractical and undesirable for the majority of consumers for the indefinite future, you may need to make a shift toward vehicles such as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram to spread the word and generate buzz about your brand.

Harnessing the power of digital media and mobile.

There is nothing like a lockdown or shelter-in-place order to set consumers scrambling for ways to occupy their time while stuck at home. As usual, technology and the internet have come through for us in numerous ways. Socializing with friends, conducting meetings with work colleagues, learning a new skill, and browsing for a seemingly endless array of products and services 100% remotely has been made possible with the help of desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

Now that people have become accustomed to clicking their way toward social contact, fulfillment of their job duties, and retail purchasing satisfaction, it is unlikely that they will ever go back to the so-called “old normal.” Even when stores are fully open and people feel physically and emotionally ready to risk shopping there, it is likely that they will augment their experience with online searches and hunts for bargains. Any business wishing to remain successful should keep this trend firmly in mind.

Decades from now, the year 2020 will be remembered as a watershed time. Without a doubt, the virus that brought much of the world to a halt will also bring permanent changes in the outlook and behaviors of consumers all over the world. Businesses with the foresight to anticipate these shifts and act accordingly will prosper.