A sense of proportion can be hard to maintain when the events we directly experience are wide-ranging enough to be truly global. Our sense of personal scale becomes distorted and we find it difficult to align with our world-view and maintain a sense of normality and order in everyday life. We become disorientated and lose focus in a whirlwind of fight-or-flight instincts.

Let’s not for a moment believe that people queuing patiently for hours outside re-opened shops is a return to normality; but rather a genuine human desire for instinctive and recognisable patterns of behaviour and finding comfort in the familiar. It’s understandable in context, but not the reignition of the economy that the country needs. 

Though globally resonant, what these circumstances are doing, is accelerating and amplifying opportunities we have felt in recent years, to drive long overdue fundamental and positive changes to high street retail.  Thankfully we are still in the time frame to make these, driven by several factors.

James Breaks – Design Director at rpa:group

How have we as consumers reacted to the crisis?

Amplified needs and desires

The crisis has amplified needs and stimulated aspiration with enforced change and helped us to revaluate what is important in our lives. A lot of our frustration now is having the means to realise these ambitions. We saw similar amplification in the last recession, where quality and experience dominated our evolution of retail, goods and services.

Increased our sensitivity (and reduced our patience?)

When threatened, it’s helpful to remember that an individual’s fundamental psychological behavioural patterns come into play at a base level. We respond disproportionately, with our sensitivity to disgust increasing and so too our desire for increased cleanliness and self-dependency. This is why for instance there was a sudden rush on toilet paper, and we all reverted to home baking. 

At the societal end of the scale, we measure our self-worth and revaluate our place in the world. Social identity norms are challenged – keyworkers are heroes, law enforcement vilified, and minorities coalesce in reaction. Social media, more than ever, becomes a fundamental platform to perpetuate this and expose social injustice and invoke reaction.

The more it changes the more it stays the same …

Psychologically, the elements of our brain that we use to recognise and form human friendships and attachments are the same as those which we use when interacting with brands. This is why it is now so important for brands to use the same strategies that humans use to make friends, creating a genuine attachment, and tapping into genuine emotions. 

What are the opportunities?

Align through Genuine Engagement 

Customers are evaluating and looking at brands as they would their friends – especially in behaviour during distancing. They are assessing them, and establishing if they fit into their own belief system and are worthy of their respect. They can spot woke companies but they can also spot virtue signalling and disingenuous actions. This evaluation has always been a rallying cry from consultancies – make genuine engagement a key requirement.

Agility (& Confidence)

With Covid enforcing social distancing and controlled customer flow in the short term, brands and services will have to realign their real estate due to customer caution or a preference for online shopping. Transparent safety measures and reassurance will help deliver this confidence. Digital signage signalling air quality, customer flow, in-store head counts and store cleanliness will play an important role in this. 

Long-term, ‘choice’ will be key to futureproofing against further pandemics or constantly evolving customer trends. 

Supporting strategies such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick Up in Store) customers by setting up specific pick-up windows will drive a need for stock and storage to be more efficiently managed. This will support showrooming, promote experiential retailing and drive opportunity for pop-up or smaller estate requirements. Brands can stimulate their customers in fresh and interesting ways and in quicker cycles.

As our physical world became smaller due to travel restrictions we became more reliant on local shops and services, which strengthened our relationships with them. As many of us continue to work from home, we will continue to utilise and appreciate shops in our local communities, which will drive more life and footfall onto our local high streets – though we will see an evolution of these to support local communities that are multi-faceted, and offer additional diversity. Of course, this sort of outcome requires collaboration with retailers, landlords, local authorities and the local community on a scale that hasn’t been seen before. 

Confirmation

It is time for retailers to reset the promotional stance. Due to the public’s ever-increasing consciousness about consumption levels – sustainability and environmental issues, brands need to carefully review discounting and focus more on quality and governance of products.

How do we respond?

Alignment

There is a close focus on brands, which need to proportionately and genuinely clarify their social position, their environmental position and reflect that they understand what is important to their customer base. Most importantly of all, they need to be able to demonstrate it – an example of this being our client LEON (who amongst others) set about delivering not just free but healthy meals to the NHS workers, which reinforces its brand values about healthy fast food.

Generate genuine attachment 

The nation’s mental health is under increasing strain. Factors such as a feeling of isolation for some who struggle to work from home, or those who are anxious about their financial security and future is adding to the pressure. Being cautious about expenditure is making consumers more considerate about consumption. Brands will need to provide value and demonstrate compassion and a feeling of worth, to reassure and engage with consumers, potentially through creating membership and communities where relevant. 

Be seamless – use technology

Front end technology retains its role unchanged as a system of communication and delivery of the core message – nothing else.

True innovation, generated in crisis, can deliver lasting potential when executed well –  virtual festivals are replacing cancelled events by celebrating live music and performance across many platforms – we know that these will never take the place of a live festival, but with current advancements in VR, may continue as events in their own right, post-covid.

More prosaically, with the increase in home delivery, technology has allowed efficiency in supply chains and logistics that allow smaller brands and suppliers the same reach as the larger. Additionally,  the increase in data around buying habits means we have more information to analyse and make positive use from. Focussing on aligning customer needs and corresponding stock, allows for a more accurate provision of fulfilling these needs.

Whatever happens, the world has insurmountably changed, but there will always be a need for social interaction and access to goods and services. Brands that adapt quickly to answer these needs will be the ones to flourish in these new times. 

Guest Writer
Author: Guest Writer

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