Gradually, we are seeing our world approach a ‘new normal’, but there are many things that will never be quite the same as they were before the lockdown. People’s attitudes have most certainly changed, in some cases in irreversible ways, and the retail sector needs to work to keep up with shoppers’ needs and desires.
In response to these changing attitudes, especially about how people want to shop, experts have coined the phrase ‘Low Touch Economy’.
What do we mean by the “Low Touch Economy”?
Originally conceptualised by the Board of Innovation, the Low Touch Economy dictates a mode of business that the retail sector, as well as other industries, will have to adopt for the purposes of health and safety after lockdown is over.
Due to the social distancing measures that are set to continue even after lockdown is over, the Low Touch Economy is the only way in which we can operate retail spaces while keeping both staff and customers safe. Experts are already referring to the Low Touch Economy as the ‘new normal’ and it is set to be the way in which people shop for the foreseeable future.
Many retail outlets are already researching how they can ensure that the Low Touch Economy is the norm in their shop and search trends tell us that it’s a real topic of interest right now. Searches for the term “low touch” increased by 75% between February and April this year, and the term “non contact” is also up by 91% in this time. There has also been a clear spike in these terms when we look at the year-on-year results, with “low touch” having increased by 133% since last April and “non contact” by 200% within the same time frame. The Low Touch Economy is clearly not a small idea—everyone’s talking about it.
So, it’s clear that the Low Touch Economy is set to transform the retail industry, but how can you take action and make sure your shop is prepared?
A sparkling shop floor
The retail sector, like any other, will need to up its cleaning game. For Tom William Maddison Hair in County Durham, the new routines have been met with customer approval. He explained his process: “I’ve implemented extra measures into my working day, seeing one client every so often is a massive change to my ‘normal’ working schedule. After each client I use a number of cleaning and anti-bacterial sprays, which I have been advised to use by a hairdressing body, eliminating any cross-contamination from one client to another.
“All tools are disinfected in a barbicide solution, which allows me to continue to use tools I am familiar with on each client, and, all surfaces including chairs and sections are cleaned. This takes roughly 30 minutes and the next client is asked to wait in their car until I message to tell them it is safe enough for them to enter the salon.”
For any retail business, now is the time to stock up on cleaning products and start focussing on the dirt and germs that you can’t see. Surfaces should be wiped down as much as possible throughout the day (don’t just rely on the evening cleaning team for this) using hygienic and easily disposable products such as blue roll.
It is also crucial that you place hand sanitiser around your shop so that customers and employees alike always have access to it.
Social distancing is still key
Cleaning is one thing, but a Low Touch Economy can’t work without the aid of social distancing. In busy shops, it can be hard to imagine how social distancing might work, but if you utilise a one-way system and limit the number of people in your shop at any given time, your staff and your customers will feel much safer.
Maddison has also introduced a “one client in, one client out” system, eliminating the chance of a customer encountering anyone other than himself. Continuing to work with the low-touch concept regarding payment, Maddison explained “We give all clients the option of contactless or to pay in cash— this is entirely up to the customer. However, if they do choose to pay with money, then I have them place it in a box which is isolated for three days before it is touched by myself. This is to make sure that there is no risk of contamination.”
For staff who are working behind the till, installing screens so that there is a barrier between them and the customer is essential. You could also implement designated help desks so that customers know instantly who to contact for assistance, rather than wandering around the shop floor looking for help.
Changing room debacles
Finally, what’s the use of your customers practising social distancing if they all end up trying on the same clothes? The current advice for retailers in the UK is that you should avoid opening your changing rooms if possible and any returned goods should be quarantined for 72 hours.
Some retailers such as Selfridges, however, are already allowing people to try on clothes in their shops, but each changing room has to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised after each use, along with the item of clothing being quarantined.
Employing the Low Touch Economy in your retail outlet can certainly be challenging. Thankfully, government guidance is constantly being updated, so you will always have a set of guidelines to follow. As customers are now being required to wear masks in shops at all times, that is one less thing to worry about, but you should still take every step possible to ensure that both your customers and your staff feel safe and protected at all times.