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How to Redesign Stores so Customers Feel Safe

Consumers have been hesitant to shop for nonessential goods during the pandemic. Here are some ways to make them more comfortable.

Sep 7, 2020 8:03 AM   By Leah Meirovich
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Getting customers to shop post-lockdown has been difficult given financial constraints, and the fear of catching Covid-19 while out has only added to that challenge. While customers prefer shopping in physical stores, they will only visit retailers they believe provide adequate safety measures, according to a De Beers survey of 500 Americans in June. However, for clients to feel truly safe, jewelers need to invest in more than just a mask, some hand sanitizer and some messaging.

“The retailer needs to think about [whether they can] deliver more than just a list of ‘this is what we’re doing to help you feel safe,’” says Pam Levine, CEO of Levine Luxury Branding. “The question is, can they deliver some kind of magic with that?”

Making small changes to improve the safety of your store can actually yield larger benefits in the long term, says Kathleen Cutler, founder of consultancy Kathleen Cutler Strategy, which works with high-end jewelers.

“I think people are doing casual shopping or recreational shopping only in places that they feel they can be relaxed in,” she maintains. “If they feel on edge when they are in your store, they aren’t going to buy. By thinking through how you can make your store feel comfortable and safe and get people to put down their guard, you might find that the [clients who] come in your door spend that much more money, and they feel ‘at home’ in your store.”

Giving them space

The most important thing to consider is whether you are providing customers with enough room for social distancing so they can browse without fear. One easy way to achieve this is to set aside space for private viewings.

“Rearranging elements of the store that will allow for private appointments — that might be turning a back room into a private showroom, moving bridal to a separate space to allow for one-on-one meetings, even holding appointments before or after hours or setting aside certain hours during the day — is one of the best things to do,” Cutler offers.

The added advantage of this method, she points out, is that it allows jewelers to spend more focused time with clients without interruption. Customers making private appointments also tend to be serious buyers who will appreciate individual attention.

In addition, scheduling appointments means customers can remain seated while staffers bring jewelry selections to them, resulting in fewer hands touching the showcases, and less interaction with other customers and staff, notes Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement, which helps jewelers more effectively redesign their space.

Paring down and spreading out

Many jewelers tend to carry a larger assortment of jewelry than necessary. Instead, they should consider trimming down their offering and spreading their most popular wares around the store, Balaity advises.

“Now is a good time to analyze which categories or brands drive revenue, and eliminate any barriers to their sale, even if it’s at the expense of lower-volume jewelry,” he says. “For many stores, the greatest revenue generator is with bridal sales.

That category is also prone to crowding couples in the same area during peak business hours. At least on a temporary basis, consider scattering the bridal inventory around the store so that each bridal-sales interaction is distanced from the next. It may seem odd for a bridal couple to meet in the watch zone, but they will appreciate the effort made for their safety.”

Marking your territory

Finding ways to delineate where customers can locate what they need is imperative and will prevent them from crossing paths as often, Levine asserts.

“This can be done in a fun and elegant way that engages customers, such as banners or floor markings in your store colors and with your brand messaging,” she suggests. “You can even use imagery, such as diamonds that you follow around, or a beautiful photograph of gemstones on the ground or on a banner on the wall, to mark that area. There are creative ways of doing things, as opposed to having it look like a Band-Aid.”

Opening up your space by pushing showcases to the perimeter of the room and creating a one-way directional traffic pattern will also give clients more breathing space, suggests Larry Johnson, owner of Larry Johnson Consulting and author of The Complete Guide to Effective Jewelry Display.

“I think this has a double benefit of conveying the sense that the store is doing something to make the customers’ shopping experience safer, and it ensures they are guided through all of the displays,” he notes.

Ample signage about products is useful as well, as it conveys information while minimizing personal interaction, Johnson adds.

Leave it at the door

Before customers even enter your store, there are some simple ways to make their shopping experience quicker and safer while also keeping them interested and entertained as they wait outside.

“List clear instructions on what protocols customers need to follow,” recommends Cutler. “Do they need a mask, hand sanitizer? How much jewelry can they touch? Are they able to try on rings? If they want to try on earrings, can they remove their masks? Laying it out up front will prevent customers from feeling stupid if they do the wrong thing.”

Jewelers don’t need to limit their decorative efforts to the inside of their store, either, says Balaity. He suggests using the outer area to capture customers’ attention while they’re lined up waiting for access.

“Window displays can take on a new role to provide increased product information, such as product stories told through videos or text, with QR codes for more information,” he explains. “Temporary graphics on the sidewalk or paving may promote the store, especially when designed in a fun manner that distracts from the solemnity of the pandemic.”

Levine recommends having a greeter at the door to make sure customers are wearing masks, limit the need to touch surfaces, and point people in the right direction for the service they’re seeking. She also thinks owners should use pre-entry time to hit an emotional note with clients.

“Use your windows to communicate, and make it positive. It’s all part of building that subliminal confidence,” she says. “I think quotes go a long way toward putting people at ease and relaying you’re in it with them. Something like, ‘The best is yet to come,’ ‘Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations,’ ‘Sometimes we’re tested not to show our weakness, but to discover our strengths,’ or even just ‘2020’ with a big sunshine.”

Keeping it real

For a retailer, authenticity is of the utmost importance. It lets customers know they can trust what you say and feel safe with you. Therefore, jewelers need to follow through with any rules they set up, even if it means losing a potential sale. If you state that customers need to wear a mask, keep to that; if you say you will not have more than three customers in your space at a time, make sure you stick to that rule.

“If you tell customers, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and customers come to your store feeling like you will keep them safe, and then somebody else in the store does not have a mask on, that ruins your reputation,” Levine emphasizes. “Don’t be afraid of losing a customer, because in the long run, you can end up losing even more.” 

This article was first published in the September issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: Store design by Balaity Property Enhancement, featuring custom illuminated unlocked drawers that allow customers to browse fashion jewelry while limiting interactions with staff. (Jesse Balaity)
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Tags: Balaity Property Enhancement, COVID-19, De Beers, Jesse Balaity, Kathleen Cutler, Kathleen Cutler Strategy, Larry Johnson, Larry Johnson Consulting, Leah Meirovich, Levine Luxury Branding, Pam Levine
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