Life After COVID-19: How Will We Ever Go Shopping Again?

By Rosunnara RothLast Updated Aug 9, 2020 8:45:05 AM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Suitsupply

After months of sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, each state is gradually easing restrictions. Many aspects of life are returning to normal, and shopping is no exception. At this point, the big question is how will we ever go shopping again after COVID-19?

As the pandemic goes on, retailers need to adapt and innovate quickly to meet the latest needs of shoppers. More people are seeking shopping experiences that are convenient, fast and — above all — safe. As a result, companies are implementing new rules such as no-contact shopping, booking appointments to access stores and improving standards for online shopping. Let’s take a look at the demands and safety protocols that we can expect to be the new normal moving forward.

What Did We Do Before?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shopping was a lot more carefree and personal. Consumers didn’t give it a second thought before entering a store to walk around and browse and touch merchandise. Before buying products, people took their time looking at and inspecting each item. Shoppers also didn’t hesitate to use shopping carts and baskets.

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Photo Courtesy: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

At clothing stores, customers went into fitting rooms to try on all types of apparel before deciding which items to purchase. At cash registers, paying with cash and credit cards was the longstanding normal practice. Plus, an unlimited number of people walked in as long as a store was open, with some stores becoming overcrowded at particularly busy times.

Some experts argue that malls are dying, while others say that they are simply evolving. The first shopping mall in the U.S. opened its doors in 1956 in Edina, Minnesota. It featured the typical department stores, a parking lot and a food court. Recently, malls are seeing a decent amount of foot traffic, thanks to their efforts to provide more entertainment experiences and better food.

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Why Doesn’t This Work Anymore?

Consumers have a habit of touching and picking up products while shopping in stores, but experts recommend limiting this practice. Surfaces in public spaces, especially shopping carts and cash register keypads, can potentially increase the spread of COVID-19. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting these objects before each use. The virus can also live on several types of surfaces for different periods. For instance, studies have found that the virus can survive up to 30 minutes on paper, two days on glass and four days on plastic and stainless steel.

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Photo Courtesy: Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Trying on clothes in retail fitting rooms isn’t safe either. The virus can lurk on doorknobs, mirrors, walls and even on clothes. Experts have noted that the virus can live on fabric for at least 24 hours.

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Space may also be an issue. For months, the CDC and other health specialists have told us to practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others at all times. As a result, we won’t be able to visit malls or shop inside stores as we please anymore.

How Can We Replace This Method?

Constant sanitation, face masks, temperature checks, glass barriers at registers and social distancing are standard rules at grocery stores and shopping centers now. However, stores plan to keep business moving and customers coming in by going beyond these measures to keep them safe.

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Photo Courtesy: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many stores plan to encourage shoppers to only look and not touch products. For instance, Sephora, the mega beauty chain, is known for allowing shoppers to test its products, but the company will stop all product testing. Businesses are also supporting touchless payment methods. In fact, Simon Property Group, the country’s largest U.S. mall owner, is asking its retail partners to use contactless transactions, such as Apple Pay.

About 49% of millennials reported feeling uncomfortable about trying on clothes in fitting rooms. The number is even more significant for baby boomers (71%). As a result, this will impact how customers shop for clothes. When Macy’s reopens, the company is closing some fitting rooms and returning clothes to racks after 24 hours. Some retailers, such as Suitsupply, now allow shoppers to book appointments for in-store fittings.

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Limiting store capacity will be another safety protocol to prevent shoppers from being in close contact with each other. This measure can be implemented in a few ways. Some stores, such as Best Buy and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield malls, will allow in-store consultations or shopping by appointment. Online purchases for in-store or curbside pickup will be available in select states for stores like Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta.

Although online shopping has been a growing trend before the outbreak, it needs to step up its efforts as more people rely on this method to shop. Many shoppers prefer Amazon for its quick delivery option, but customers may lose interest in the company if products tend to be out-of-stock or delivered late. In other words, businesses that aren’t reliable won’t survive. Companies need to apply new protocols in their buildings and the way they operate online as the shopping experience changes drastically. Keeping up with demand will be the difference between thriving and bankruptcy.

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