Here’s some good news: with the number of COVID-19 cases decreasing in several parts of the world, various states and cities have started easing up on their restrictions, allowing businesses to safely resume their operations.
The bad news? The coronavirus is still out there. If people aren’t careful, we may experience a second wave of the virus.
In short, while there are signs of hope, we’re not out of the woods yet. So even if you got the green light to open up, you need to be smart and cautious with how you implement your merchandising initiatives to keep everyone safe and boost sales.
To that end, here are 10 merchandising tips for diving sales during COVID-19.
1. Carefully plan your assortments
Now is not the time to adopt a “business as usual” approach with your assortment planning. COVID-19 has radically changed the needs of consumers. So you need to rethink the merchandising plans that you may have had before the pandemic.
One of the smartest things you can do is to look at the data. If you’ve been selling online, pay attention to the categories or items that are driving the most traffic, sales, and profits, then use those insights to inform your in-store merchandising mix.
If you haven’t been selling online, tap into industry data by looking at your competitors and similar players in your market. You can use tools like Rising Retail Categories, an interactive tool that lets you “understand fast-rising retail categories in Google Search, the locations where they’re growing, and the queries associated with them.”
2. Make your in-demand products more accessible
Once you know what your money-makers are, dedicate the appropriate shelf space for those items. In the age of COVID-19, this could mean having more space for your high-demand items versus displaying multiple product lines.
“One of the most overlooked aspects of retail merchandising during COVID-19 is ensuring that customers feel ok about shopping, and that they’re able to view and make their purchasing choices without feeling stressed, rushed, or as if they’re behaving incorrectly,” says John Moss, CEO at English Blinds.
“Achieving this goes beyond, and even contradicts in some cases, the usual basics of retail merchandising such as placing higher value lines at eye level and taking every opportunity to diversify and showcase multiple lines.”
According to Moss, you need to ensure that your top goods get even more shelf space, so shoppers can move about and quickly get the items they need without crowding other people.
Here’s a good example from Kohl’s, which devotes a relatively larger display for basic apparel pieces such as plain T-shirts and tank tops.
3. Pivot Your Current Offerings
Once you have a good grasp on consumer trends and have identified your high demand items, it’s time to reposition your remaining current offerings. For instance, knowing consumers are spending ample time at home, Lululemon is choosing to feature clothing items related to comfort and ease.
A recent podcast from the Nation Retail Federation (NRF) noted consumers are shopping for more than facemasks, hand sanitizers, and groceries. Consumers are also purchasing products related to new hobbies. And, they are anxious to celebrate holidays. Think about how you can reposition your products in a way that is inline with these trends. Then create displays and curate your website accordingly.
Book, music, and home goods retailer Indigo has a dedicated section on their website featuring “Top Gifts for Dad.” This content couples books and relevant high value items. They have even created gift guides based on interest.
4. Promote health and safety from the get-go
Enticing people to buy your products starts with getting them through your doors. To do that, you need to instill confidence and promote health and safety even before they walk in.
Sharing your health and safety measures and interfacing with customers on digital channels like email and social media are must-dos.
In addition, your storefront should also do its part to win over shoppers and drive traffic.
“We are seeing retailers invest in creating a very strong customer experience from the moment the customer walks into the store. This stems around instilling a sense of confidence in customers pertaining to their health and safety,” explains Johana Schwartzman from Source Access, an international sourcing company.
She adds, “some retailers are choosing to have masks, gloves and sanitizers easily accessible to customers at the front of the store. Some other retailers have gone a step further, by providing small packages of complimentary disinfecting wipes that a customer can use as they peruse merchandise within the store.”
Here’s a look at what various US retailers are doing in the states where they’ve been allowed to open:
5. Minimize high-touch displays
While we’re usually big fans of interactive in-store elements like touch-screen displays. Unfortunately, these things are a no-no in the age of COVID-19. Eliminate them for the time-being, along with other unnecessary items that invite touching (e.g., product samples).
If you typically present product information through interactive displays, consider using old fashioned signage. Trader Joe’s does this really well. TJ’s uses traditional signage that are hand-drawn. They often contain colorful illustrations, to make them eye-catching and engaging.
6. Freshen up your “Speed Bump” displays and “Lake Front Property”
According to retail experts Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender, “once the store has reopened, and safety measures are in place, it’s time to turn your attention to the sales floor.”
Kizer and Bender point out that half of your sales floor is never seen by customers. So it’s up to you to bring your merchandise to their attention.
Their advice? Put “Speed Bump” displays upfront and center, just inside your front door. “Use them to feature an array of cross-merchandised products, artfully displayed, that entice shoppers to buy more than one item,” they add.
“Change your speed bumps at least once a week whether they need it or not and repeat. Shoppers will marvel at how much new product you have.”
Next up is your “Lake Front Property,” which is located in the front-right area of your store. Ninety percent of consumers turn right when they enter, so your Lake Front area will garner a lot of attention.
According to Kizer and Bender, you should “merchandise this area with items you don’t want shoppers to miss, and load up the checkout counter with high margin, irresistible impulse items at low prices.”
7. Use signage wisely
Signage is one of the most important tools you can use, particularly in an environment where there are new rules and rapid changes.
As we’ve said before, make use of store signage and floor decals to direct traffic and communicate need-to-know information.
Check out this sign from Trader Joe’s. It contains helpful reminders on how customers can stay safe and get the most out of their trip to the store.
And as always, supplement your in-store efforts with digital communications (email, website, social media).
“If you intend to direct customers around the store or incorporate specific guidance such as waiting to be called forward to check out, make this really clear with simple, large, and prominent signage and plenty of workers on hand to assist and direct,” says Moss.
“This helps to avoid pinch points and negative interactions between shoppers who are otherwise forced to police each other or that are confused and so, go about things the wrong way,” he explained.
The supermarket Sprouts makes good use of simple signage by having arrows on the floor along with stickers telling shoppers where to stand when waiting for their turn at the checkout counter.
8. Implement a design or layout that feels “open”
“Shoppers feel more comfortable in an indoor environment when they can subconsciously sense exit routes, thereby countering the deep-ceded feeling of claustrophobia,” writes Kartik Uchil, co-founder of Freshtags.
As such, he recommends “visually sleek” racking systems as opposed to using bulky fixtures. “De-clutter the space by eliminating floor-to-ceiling shelving,” he adds.
We can see this in action in Oleoteca Gourmet, a Madrid-based store that sells olive oil and gifts. The store uses shelves that aren’t too big and have a good amount of distance in between, thus giving the shop a more open feel.
As for your window display, Uchil writes that they “should be left unobstructed with the main display fixtures moved to the center of the space.”
9. Use antimicrobial shelves and fixtures if possible
If you’re looking for more ways to keep your customers and employees safe, equip your store with bacteria and virus-resistant countertop maps and displays.
This retail counter mat, for example, allows you to insert printed signage so you can showcase promotions or announcements. The pad has a built-in Microban antimicrobial product protection, which has active ingredients that resist the growth of microbes.
Meanwhile, the retail merchandising company siffron® offers a bacteria-resistant system that features removable tiles which protect and showcase food while curbing the growth of bacteria.
10. Keep up with Product education
With additional sanitizing and health and safety protocols in place, your front-line staff have a lot going on. Still, as you update your merchandising strategy, take the time to keep staff informed about product offerings. If you use an app like Bindy, you can create regular, short, education product posts to push to all stores. With read-receipts and follow-up tasks, Head Office can ensure product knowledge is transferred.
Because you may be short staffed, or your employees are short on time, it is a good idea to put product information directly in front of the customer. Consider in-store shelf talkers and other signage.
Additionally, bring your social media channels in line with your merchandising strategy. They should reflect your current offerings. Use your channels to push new product assortments or re-enforce your pivoted messaging about current offerings.
Social media is also a great place to cross-merchandise by presenting product collections. For instance one Toronto-based yoga studio, Beaches Hot Yoga, is using Instagram to reenforce their product message that the yoga gear they sell can now be worn everyday, all day.
They are keeping customers engaged by posting product pairings on Instagram live every day.
The bottom line: It’s time to rework your merchandising strategy
Successful retail merchandising in a post-COVID-19 world requires compelling visuals, smart store planning, and clear customer communications.
You can achieve all that by mapping out a merchandising strategy that factors in your customers’ needs and adapting to today’s new normal.
To ensure that your merchandising initiatives are executed well, create the necessary checklists and conduct store audits to keep everything in check.
OTHER MERCHANDISING RESOURCES
Refer to the Merchandising category for checklists, how-tos and best practices for merchandising.
About the author:
Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.