Focus 01: The Immediate Reality: Social Distancing

Over the coming weeks we will serialise into daily, bite sized snippets all chapters within our FOCUS series of reports that explore THE NEW ROLE OF PHYSICAL RETAIL.


One thing that everyone has learnt throughout this pandemic, is that you can’t predict the ‘future of retail’. But what you can do, is use this opportunity to force a re-think.


Consumers will expect social distancing measures to be in place and effectively managed in store, including introduction of elements to protect both store staff and customers. While initially this may mean introduction of elements such as floor graphics, screening, fitting room policies and systems to manage the number of customers in store, after the initial rush to implement new measures the level of sophistication will need to evolve.


As existing stores haven’t been designed with social distancing in mind, most physical retail needs some form of adaptation to comply with social distancing rules. This may include a reduction in floor fixtures, re-arrangement of retail furniture and creating one-way systems. In addition, till systems and payment areas, queue management, fitting rooms and information hubs have also required an immediate re-think.

Consumers that ventured out to essential retail within lockdown found a changed world due to social distancing measures:

  • A barrage of stickers, instructions and sneeze screens installed at haste with little aesthetic or operational consideration. Some stores weren’t able to install elements such as sneeze screens in a timely manner due to a shortage of acrylic based on the spike in demand.
  • Crude ad-hoc queuing systems made from upturned trolleys or other improvised materials. While reactionary, this contributed to an uncomfortable experience.
  • Increased security and sales staff under pressure to not only enforce social distancing rules, but maintain control in emotionally charged situations where shoppers became frustrated with queues and new rules, or with other shoppers not following the rules.
  • Introduction of digital stop/ go systems to control numbers in some stores across Europe as non-essential stores opened. With little guidance shoppers seemed to immediately accept and follow these systems.
  • As methods of compliance evolved, innovative FMCG brands used social distancing floor stickers as an opportunity to communicate with shoppers in a fun way, lightening the mood and reinforcing a brand message.

However, many of these elements are temporary and implemented as survival measures to enable stores to remain open, rather than being a considered or integral part of a strategic customer journey.


Every brand and retailer will face different challenges based on the sector, their product offer and physical space, but there are a number of things that brands and retailers can do now to make store environments more appealing to shoppers and reduce friction points in store.

  • Use queuing/ waiting shoppers as an opportunity for brand communication; talk about the positive things you are doing and provide entertainment in an appropriate tone, preventing boredom and frustration and encouraging positive emotions.
  • Review existing congregation points and hot spots in store and how they can be distributed more evenly throughout the space, preventing clusters of shoppers.
  • Consider how to influence customer flow throughout the store that still allows browsing and pause points, but isn’t a regimented one-way system that is not conducive to shopping.
  • Explore duplication of popular products, different store zones and categorisation of products that help to evenly distribute the volume of shoppers.
  • Re-consider the purpose of cash desks and explore alternative ways of completing transactions. This may be multiple till points rather than a bank of tills to help eliminate queues.
  • Re-distribute seating and waiting areas to avoid clusters, and explore re-location of consultation spaces.
  • Where applicable, re-think the function and operations of fitting rooms in-store and explore new ways to make shoppers feel comfortable and confident in their purchase without the need to try on.

Using our in-depth knowledge of retail environments and consumer behaviour, we can support you with evolved store planning, category zoning, layout and operations of services, and creation of innovative solutions that address social distancing in the short, medium and longer term as store formats evolve.

As consumers start to return to stores, what can you do now to turn challenges into opportunities that maximise the comfort and safety of staff and shoppers and provide an experience in store that will keep consumers coming back.

Get in touch if you would like to arrange a virtual workshop with our founding Directors Adrian & Jenny to see how we can help you work through your opportunities, or download the full document HERE



29th June 2020