Analysis: Retailers Prep as Shoppers Return to Stores

ChaseDesign sees retailers rethinking their aisles to better connect with post-pandemic shoppers.
a display in a store

Shoppers are returning to brick-and-mortar stores, and retailers and their brand partners need to rethink store design in response to evolving preferences and expectations.

Those were the direct and secondary conclusions reached recently by Skaneateles, NY-based ChaseDesign after proprietary research conducted in February through its proprietary mPulse research platform found that 78% of consumers plan to visit brick-and-mortar stores more often in 2021 than they did in 2020. (In fact, many have already returned, according to a study published this month by the Path to Purchase Institute which found 86% of January grocery trips taking place in brick-and-mortar stores.)

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Conducted among 1,000 consumers aged 25 to 65 across the U.S., the research found that “consumers want to enjoy physical shopping once again,” explained Joe Lampertius, ChaseDesign’s president. In general, Lampertius says returnees are generally motivated by one of three factors:

1. The simple desire to “get back out” after more than a year spent largely in their homes (which was noted by 63% of shoppers).
2. A general love of the physical shopping experience (with 38% saying they “enjoy shopping in stores”).
3. The need “to make every dollar count” and therefore avoid the additional costs sometimes associated with home delivery (with 28% saying they “get better deals in the store”).

For however much convenience and speed might be delivered through online shopping, they survey found that 64% of consumers still want to see products in person before buying them and 47% consider a trip to the store the best way to fulfill an immediate need (see chart, above).

Retailers need to prepare for the return by strengthening the in-store experience that shoppers are now expecting, which includes an inviting atmosphere and knowledgeable employees (see chart, below), as well as helpful digital tools. “They will be using technology such as retailer apps and self-checkout to make their experience better,” said Lampertius (who also noted the comeback of the much-maligned QR code as a communication vehicle). “Retailers need to take this into consideration and get ready to build connections with old and new customers.”

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They’re doing so in part by opening new stores, a somewhat surprising trend given the many “death of traditional retail” discussions that took place during the pandemic. Yet retailers across a variety of channels are doing just that — in fact, Target, 7-Eleven, Sephora and Aldi alone plan to collectively open 6,000 stores in 2021, according to a ChaseDesign analysis.

But they’re also rethinking overall store design and category sets. Despite the pandemic, retailers quietly undertook a significant amount of redesign work in 2020 aimed at “transforming the aisle” and “reinventing category management,” according to Lampertius. The goal is to deliver the shopping solutions and experiences that “will bring the excitement of the perimeter to the center store [and give] shoppers relevant reasons to go down the aisles again.”

National brands can play a critical role in these efforts by “leveraging what brands do so well,” which is making connections with shoppers, he said. “The most recognizable brands have a lot of power. They will be asked by retailers to help and they are going to want to participate.”