Consumer sentiment towards retail has undergone considerable shifts over the past decade and as a consequence the landscape has evolved considerably, pushed by a strong digital trend.

Nothing, however, prepared retail and trade for an unprecedented metamorphosis of consumer habits and the restrictions that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we look at countries across Europe and the world, we can see how this has impacted consumers’ habits. We believe both the relationship with shopping and the customer experience will change by consequence.

We are seeing fear among consumers like most post-war generations had not experienced to date; the fear of falling ill, both on behalf of themselves and their loved ones, but also the fear of the economic impact of the crisis. Loss of income and declining consumer confidence have driven decreases in discretionary spending.

A recent study conducted by Ipsos Mori suggested that more than 40% of UK citizens would still be reluctant to go shopping even if the government ordered the lifting of the imposed restrictions in a month’s time. So, what can be done by retailers to try and reassure consumers?

What we are currently seeing and experiencing in those stores that remain open is a number of devices and initiatives in place to improve hygiene and safety for customers and staff.

Perspex screens between client and cashier; contactless payments; the suggested or enforced use of gloves and masks for everyone; in-store aisles being transformed into one-way-only pathways; the use of UV/LED germicidal solutions and health check kiosks; explicit rules regarding waiting in line and even security cameras measuring social distance between shoppers and reminding them in real time when it’s not being respected.

Retailers will have a duty to enforce the implementation of measures such as these nationwide for the foreseeable future.

In-store messaging, whether via overhead audio announcements or digital screens, will have to continue to serve as a tool to inform and assure both consumers and employees that safety measures are in place.

At Mood Media, we have worked with a number of UK supermarkets to ensure that all communications with the public are done with purpose and compassion; reinforcing social distancing, sharing company policies and actions and reminding government measures.

Consumers are likely to be more convenience and purpose driven moving forward and will expect the brands they choose to implement reassurances and safety guarantees. We have seen the impact of this nervousness demonstrated across the world.

The Chinese government was gifting billions of yuan in shopping vouchers and offering other financial incentives to encourage nervous consumers to start spending again once the lockdown was lifted.

For retailers continuing to advertise, a clear majority of consumers expect this spend to make a positive contribution to society; to talk about the usefulness of the brand in everyday life, inform about its efforts to tackle the situation, adopt a reassuring tone, and communicate its values. These elements of communication are essential during the crisis to keep in touch with customers, but will also become crucial after the crisis, once back in store.

Building and cementing consumer trust will stem from personalisation. With older generations being newly comfortable with digital channels and new consumer segments having overcome barriers to trial new digital products and services, consumers will expect brands to use this new digital relationship to understand them more deeply and make better use of their data to deliver more personalised marketing and products.

Consumers need a compelling in-store proposition to attract them away from the familiarity of online and the safety of their homes, we think that personalised services and constant reassurance on hygiene and sanitation will help to mitigate concerns and reinstate trust and brand loyalty.

Slowly but surely, we believe that shopping will reassume the role of a leisure experience. After a long period of feeling restricted to their homes, consumers will look for, and are craving, justifiable opportunities to explore stores again. Showrooming and sensorial marketing will play a central role in encouraging an uneasy consumer to re-engage in-store by further demonstrating an unparalleled experience that cannot be offered online.

With new standards in place to encourage safer environments, the desire to enjoy the social and immersive aspect of shopping again and to view it as a form of entertainment vs. necessity will undoubtedly impact consumer behaviour for the better in time. As a result of this, retailers’ behaviour will need to be upgraded in terms of the overall experience offered in store both to benefit commercially but also to show ultimate compassion for the consumer.

The desire to reconnect with a more experiential universe will open up opportunities for retailers to be more creative in-store while also filling the gap of what we expect to be emptier spaces. It’s an opportunity to re-set the right mood for stores and public places.