07 July 2020, 08:43 AM
  • With regulations, consumer habits and regulations shaping today's retail market, it pays to be smart when it comes to how - and what - you sell. Lindsey Butler, food buying consultant at Ford Consultancy Group, shares her advice
Merchandising in the ‘new era’

With ordering food online, eating in and the home chef boom taking place over the lockdown months and into the phase of reopening shops, it is paramount to ensure that ‘new era’ product ranges, customer experience and customer safety are properly considered and effectively put in place in order to protect your business and make it as attractive as possible.
There have been significant shifts in consumer spend in food retail vs hospitality as restaurants and eateries were forced to close, but now the competition is ever more evident that customers are returning to the supermarkets rather than shopping local. Shifts in customer behaviours and restriction rules are rapidly changing so retailers can no longer afford to sit still and must anticipate customer needs and adapt both their mindset and retail environment to create a winning model.

It is difficult to accurately predict longer term changes in consumer behaviour patterns and what, if any, further restriction rules may be imposed, but one key aspect in maintaining customer engagement when reopening your store will be a different approach to merchandising.

Shopability
Think customer safety and engaging experience. Customer confidence will remain high if they feel their well-being is at the forefront, with hand sanitisers provided at the shop entrance, regular cleaning of baskets and trolleys, and a visibly clean shop with constantly active and attentive staff routinely cleaning and sanitising surfaces. Decluttering the shop to ease the efficiency for customers to move around the aisles and introducing a one-way system to guide the flow. Cross-merchandising, intuitive product grouping and the timing at which stock replenishment takes place all need careful planning.

Communication and signage
Understandably customers may want to spend a shorter time in shops compared to pre-pandemic, so easing the shopping experience is key. Depending on the size of the shop, product and aisle signage will direct customers to the area they need more efficiently with ‘short cuts’ to high volume product areas such as fresh bread and milk, enabling shorter time periods wandering around the shop unnecessarily. This is especially key when there is a one-in-one-out policy, and particularly if this policy remains in place throughout with winter where customers will need to queue outside.

Product ranging
In some cases, the ‘good, better, best’ tier system for product ranges will need to be reduced, and some products withdrawn completely. As the financial impact of the pandemic unfortunately affects many customers, it is key to consider where people might prioritise their reduced spending and still ensuring that pockets of ‘affordable luxury’ feature throughout. As we head into Christmas, if the current restriction rules are still in place, seasonal product ranges will need to be carefully planned and executed, ensuring volume of key products are available but still maintaining customer social distance rules.

Adapting to the current restrictions but also being able to flex and adapt as these rules are relaxed or even lifted will be key to successfully navigating the transition into the ‘new era’ retailing. There are plenty of positive opportunities to refresh and reinvigorate your business and teams, with a new mindset and approach to customer service. Deciding on those modifications will all centre around ensuring your customers are satisfied with fulfilling their requirements, upselling where you can and maintaining a safe environment for them to shop.

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