There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the retail industry. Consumer trends, even in the fast-paced world of retail, would normally evolve over months or years. In 2020, we’ve seen shopping habits change virtually overnight.
Change is still happening, too. Even now, where the pandemic has stabilized, like in Dubai, people are still in a period of rapid readjustment. They are still reflecting on the past months and adjusting to new priorities. This is continuing to affect their shopping habits. They are returning to in-store shopping in different ways and at different speeds.
Dubai-based Xpandretail, which specializes in retail analytics and business intelligence, recently surveyed 500 local consumers. The results are some interesting insights into how people are now shopping in the city and what is tempting them back into the store. These are enabling Dubai retailers to rebuild their businesses with confidence.
What Concerns Do Dubai Retailers Need to Overcome?
The survey reveals much about how people are approaching in-store shopping and their confidence levels. There are still many concerns related to the pandemic and 65% are hesitant about returning to stores. What is driving this?
People are still fearful of their health and do remain concerned about visiting public places, including retail stores. For a significant proportion of shoppers, there are hygiene concerns and worries about high visitor numbers.
COVID-19 has had an enormous financial impact on many households. In many of these, there have been job losses, salary cuts, and the lack of usual bonuses and rewards. Those affected have needed to cut spending in many areas.
Even those who have kept their usual income are understandably wary of what the near future could bring. Many have reevaluated their spending patterns. This often means they have reigned in spending, and are choosing to only buy essentials and save for emergencies instead.
All these issues above are lowering the footfall into stores. This is, of course, damaging to retailers who still face high expenses despite lower customer spending.
Some Positive News
The good news for Dubai retailers is that consumers still tend to prefer in-store shopping where they feel it is safe. Around 60% still prefer the experience of visiting a store over online purchasing. Negative experiences of delayed or damaged online shopping during heavy lockdown demand have dented their confidence. Often, demand outstripped supply due to the surge in demand.
Online shopping has always had its constraints. It can be difficult to gauge the scale, correct sizing, texture, finish and quality of any product from an image and written description. There are also concerns about transportation and packaging of goods bought online, both the cost to the consumer and the environmental cost. It seems consumers aren’t willing to replace in-store shopping online quite yet.
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How are Retailers Successfully Encouraging Customers Back into Stores?
Many Dubai retailers are already applying this knowledge of current consumer concerns and have put in place strategies that are successfully encouraging customers into the store. These include:
1. Non-contact temperature monitors
Some retailers in Dubai have opted for non-contact temperature monitors to check customer and staff temperatures on their way into the store. An abnormally high temperature is a key symptom of COVID-19. Store staff will be alerted to anybody attempting to enter the store with a high temperature.
Of course, this cannot guarantee that everyone passing through the doors is not infectious, due to asymptomatic and very mild cases, or atypical symptoms. However, this technology would be instrumental for Dubai retailers in demonstrating that their shop is as safe as possible.
2. Excellent, highly visible sanitation
Consumers are also concerned about touching items in a store because of the chance of a COVID-19-affected person having previously touched them. To improve consumer confidence, it is important to provide excellent sanitization opportunities. This allows customers to sanitize their hands as frequently as they wish. It also gives them confidence that others are doing the same and that the store is making the environment as safe as possible.
Disinfection of apparel is also important, as well as any items that may be frequently picked up and put back. Once again, it is vital that stores not only employ a robust cleaning procedure but are also seen to be employing it.
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3. Social distancing and occupancy monitoring
A key mantra of all governments and health bodies across the globe is that social distancing is absolutely vital. People must leave a safe space between themselves and people from other households. Although government regulations are in place, a key concern of potential shoppers is that they may find it difficult to socially distance amongst large numbers of people.
Stores must not only monitor footfall, and be seen to do it, but also share up-to-date visitor numbers with their customers. This empowers the customer to be able to make their own decisions about whether to enter a store or not. But above all, it builds trust and inspires confidence. Accurate footfall counting technology makes this very achievable.
A variety of technologies can provide accurate occupancy monitoring. Footfall counting solution providers offer Infra-red beam sensors, laser sensors, video-based image referencing sensors, thermal red heat detection sensors, and shape recognition technology as possibilities. The data collated by these sensors also offers retailers further insights that are extremely valuable right now. Read on to find out more.
4. Using data analytics for better, quicker strategic decisions
Footfall data is useful in real-time but also provides excellent customer insights. Dubai Retailers can explore conversion rates, even department by department. This allows them to assess the impact of current product placement and marketing campaigns. Marketing during turbulent times can require a significant rethink, and this technology enables retailers to assess what is and isn’t working.
It is easy to identify “hot” and “cold” product areas through heat mapping and path tracking, for instance. Retailers can then quickly identify emerging consumer patterns and trends and roll out new, improved strategies immediately.
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With consumers saying they prefer to shop less frequently at this time, Dubai retailers must work harder than ever before to make every moment in a store “count.” Capturing footfall data and using people counting analytics makes this possible. While consumers are re-evaluating how, when and how often they intend to shop, agile retailers are using technology to monitor their changing preferences and to respond immediately to keep their customers coming back.
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Vic Bageria is the Founder and CEO of Sávant Data System LLC, a retail solutions and services provider focused on empowering businesses with progressive technology solutions such as People Counting and In-Store Analytics to improve operational efficiency and profitability (such as provided by Xpandretail powered by Savant). Vic is an award-winning entrepreneur and visionary, with experience in building recurring revenue technology businesses, who has mastered the intersection of technology, consumer marketing, customer behaviour and instore insights.