Post-Pandemic Return to Retail
An inside look at what’s working and how the new retail experience is shaping up ahead of the upcoming holiday shopping season.
Return to Retail
Written by Jai Lozan
An Insider Look at the New Shopping Experience
Our Co-Founder and Head of Retail, Jim Lovrien entered his local Best Buy store for the first time since COVID-19 health and safety procedures have been implemented. We asked him a series of questions after his trip to provide an inside look at what’s working and how the new retail experience is shaping up ahead of the upcoming holiday shopping season.
Q: Jim, on your first visit back to Best Buy since quarantine measures have loosened, what were you paying particular attention to?
A: I paid special attention to the physical (masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing adherence) and psychological (blue shirt interactions, time in store, overall comfort levels, etc.) challenges customers face when visiting a store.
Q: As you prepared for your initial visit to Best Buy, did you have mixed emotions about going inside?
A: Yes, I'd say it was a nervous anticipation, somewhat fifty-fifty between uneasy and excited. As someone that's been in the consumer electronics and retail sector for many years, I was eager to get in store and see what had changed as well as test drive some new products that had launched mid-pandemic.
Q: So it was a normal experience then?
A: It was. Everything seemed back to normal but slightly more spaced out with associates and customers all wearing face coverings. Overall, I felt a calm energy walking inside.
Q: Was there a line outside or did you have to make an appointment to shop?
A: Good question. I was wondering about that as well, but no, the store was open, there was no waiting line outside like I had experienced several weeks ago at the Home Depot when I visited. I was able to freely walk in as usual which was great. I noticed more blue shirt associates available at the front of the store, perhaps in an attempt to guide customers to items and keep the flow of customers moving. But even so, I didn't feel rushed or pushed out in any way.
Q: One of the nice things about a store like Best Buy is the size and the layout. Did the store feel crowded or empty?
A: I'd guess there was somewhere between 40 to 50 customers inside when I visited, but it did not feel full or overwhelming at all. There were visual reminders throughout the store to ensure customers kept their distance. The Geek Squad area was by far the busiest area in the store.
Q: That’s probably a relief for all the tech-savvy people that have assumed the family in-home CTO role across America, don’t you think?
A: Totally. I’m sure customers are as happy to have the Geek Squad back in store answering all their bizarre tech questions as the associates are to answer them.
Q: Did you have time to test out any new/interesting products while in store?
A: I did. I checked out some of the new flagship phones I hadn’t seen in person yet, but in the end I decided an upgrade isn't a priority for me right now. I headed out of the store without making a purchase, and overall I really enjoyed the experience. I felt safe and it was similar to my pre-pandemic trips with only a few notable changes.
Q: What was the biggest change you saw in store?
A: Besides the face covering requirements, the first thing I noticed was that the aisle fixtures throughout the store had been removed to create more space to move around.
Q: How full were the shelves and pegs?
A: There were still many empty pegs in all the departments I browsed, which could mean a few different things: the store is still experiencing limited supply from vendors, or there is a possibility this is a strategic decision on Best Buy’s part to reduce orders which would minimize inventory holding costs. Or both.
Q: Very interesting. Do you think the supply chain will be back to normal by holiday season?
A: I think that once the merchants get a better understanding of store traffic and consumer purchasing, my guess is that Best Buy will start to buy more inventory and we'll see the pegs fill up to normal stocked levels by holiday. There is always a chance that some brands will be edited or discontinued from the assortment for the rest of 2020 and that will continue into early 2021. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift with retailers pulling back, trying to do more sales volume with less brands and less SKUs overall for the remainder of the year.
Q: It’s an interesting time, that’s for sure. So in the end, what was your takeaway from your first trip back to retail?
A: I must admit I really did enjoy the experience of shopping again, while online allows me to buy just about anything and have it delivered in days or even just hours, there is something special about the experience of actually shopping, meandering and discovering new products, being drawn in by eye-catching displays and beautiful tactile packaging.
As people begin to return to stores and malls across the country it will be interesting to see which major shifts and technologies will emerge to keep the retail experience fresh and exciting for shoppers. We fully expect to see more touchless payment options, enhanced health and safety measures for customers and associates, gesture-based merchandising displays from brands, and more virtual interaction in-store via smartphone AR technology. Several companies are already launching new retail experiences that are leaning in with new immersive technologies. Lov Retail will continue to seek out and highlight our experiences to offer a different perspective as we explore the reopening of retail.
Jim Lovrien has spent more than two decades in retail, driving sales at a range of major global brands, including Macy’s, Samsung, VIZIO and Incase. Most recently, Jim managed sales teams at Belkin and AUKEY, leading merchandising projects, product initiatives and financial program negotiations with Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Groupon, and Kohl's.