Ed Whitehead, Signifyd managing director, EMEA

There is no shying away from the fact that the in-store retail experience is not what it used to be.

For many, in-store visits have become stressful outings complete with face masks, social distancing and queuing up to enter. Some would prefer to spend as little time as possible inside the store.

For this reason, eCommerce remains a beaming light of hope for the retail industry. In May the Office for National Statistics reported that the proportion of online spending increased to 33.3% and that in June the proportion of online spend sat at 31.8%.

Moreover, as of early August, ecommerce sales in Europe were up 31% from pre-pandemic levels, according to Signifyd’s Ecommerce Pulse data. But even online shopping isn’t risk free. Fraudsters find comfort in the sort of chaos that COVID-19 has wrought.

Retailers will want to strengthen their defenses now, while looking ahead to requirements meant to make ecommerce even safer. Enforcement of PSD2’s strong customer authentication regulations will begin throughout most of Europe on Dec. 31.

Retailers who want to protect their customers and their conversions will need to have reliable systems in place. With these trends in mind, retail executives need to re-imagine the customer experience in store and online too.

In the COVID-19 era, safety is the new customer experience. So, what to do?

Instore reassurance

Obviously, some consumers are ready to shop in-store. Bolster their confidence by practicing highly visible cleaning protocols. Offer shoppers masks, if they don’t have them, and ensure that customers, associates and other store staff wear them. Display clear signs and floor markings encouraging social distancing. Provide contactless payment options. Accept returns via delivery services and post.

Brush up on omnichannel offerings

The importance of building an omnichannel approach that meets customers where they choose can’t be overstated. With anxiety over in-store shopping running high, retailers need to be able to provide a seamless online and offline experience.

Click-and-collect needs to be fast and accurate. Showing shoppers what goods are available at what store is paramount.

Find new ways to serve

Depending on the products you sell, you might want to offer virtual visits, during which customers can view products remotely.

More importantly, these sessions give associates a chance to explain products and features to a customer and get a better sense for what the customer is trying to accomplish. It is a way to not only increase conversions, but a way to build a connection.

Consider customer collection points

The idea of ordering online and picking up the goods from outside the store is catching on quickly, especially with groceries and out of town retail parks.

The service isn’t for every merchant or every store location, but where possible it offers anxious customers a way to get goods quickly without having to enter the store.

Flexibility around customer comfort

Walking around a physical store isn’t going to be for everyone. Not every consumer will want to try collection points. Not everyone will be up for virtual visits, either.

But each of those options will appeal to some shoppers.

Retailers, then, need to be ready to offer whatever it is that a particular customer is comfortable doing or enjoys.

Consider order automation and dynamic fraud protection systems

Use the pandemic as motivation for upping your risk-management game. The SCA enforcement deadline for most of Europe may be Dec. 31, but retailers are going to want to have their systems in place by the start of the holiday shopping season.

The season is hectic enough without worrying about ramping up new checkout procedures.

Look for a system that provides order automation and relies on machine-learning to sort legitimate orders from fraudulent ones nearly instantly in order to provide consumers with flexibility.

Click-and-collect and collection point orders need to be filled quickly and they come with unique fraud challenges.

When online orders are picked up by the customer, the transaction happens without a delivery address, which provides a number of signals to validate the customer’s identity.

A machine-learning system that relies on a network of merchants is far more likely to be familiar with any given customer, as the system would have seen the consumer’s transactions at other retailers.

Optimise your ecommerce experience

So much of the in-store experience is out of your hands given COVID-19 requirements. All the more reason to provide a sterling online experience.

Audit your entire online customer journey to ensure that it offers intuitive navigation, engaging content, precision personalisation, accurate inventory, seamless checkout and instant order confirmation.

Yes, COVID-19 presents a challenge different from any that retail leaders have faced before. But with some thought, a bold strategy and ample determination, retailers will not just get through it, they’ll get through it successfully.