To ensure visitors will feel comfortable coming back in the future, shopping centers and stores must make big productions of their safety protocols and cleaning techniques as they reopen, experts said on the ICSC Connect Virtual Series episode Reopening for Retail and Real Estate.
As Ikea reopens in the U.S., it’s harvesting best social distancing practices from its stores in China and Europe, said Angele Robinson-Gaylord, president of North America real estate. “We’re in a situation where customers may be fearful to reenter large places like Ikea,” she said. “It’s about rebuilding trust. How do we engender that trust?” One way, she said, is by cleaning the store hourly rather than just during off hours. Ikea also is developing different cleaning and sanitizing plans for its hard goods and soft goods areas.
At the 20 Macerich malls that are fully reopen, the company has “safety ambassadors” whose job is to remind shoppers respectfully to practice social distancing. Housekeeping personnel wear eye-catching bright yellow vests so shoppers are well aware of their presence, said executive vice president of asset management David Short. “It’s important that the consumer see what’s going on.” Reopening involves intense physical planning, he said. “It’s path of travel. It’s queuing. It’s furniture. It’s amenities. It’s spacing. It’s all of those things combined with great messaging.” Macerich’s marketing team is using digital, social and on-site messaging, he said. “We have stickers on the bathroom mirrors reminding guests to wash their hands for 20 seconds.”
Communication is important before, during and after shoppers visit the property, said Tim Heffernan, chief development officer for conference, event and trade show contractor T3 Expo. Shopping center owners and retailers should communicate to customers at home and on-site about how customers should behave, he said. “Showcase back to the people entering that you’ve thought about their safety and created a new consumer journey that focuses on safety and security.”
Stanchions, floor graphics and sneeze guards are de rigueur, but new technologies also can help make shoppers feel safer. “Caution tape doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to represent your brand better,” Heffernan said. One example is The Indoor Lab, which uses the same lidar infrared technology used in self-driving cars to track customers on the fly, he said. “It actually paints a picture of where every single person is, and then it shows the vapor trail, where they’ve walked and what they’ve touched down to two centimeters.” An operator then can tag a robot to clean affected spaces. The action is captured on a heat map that customers can watch, he said. It shows the shopper: “Look, you’re entering a clean space.”
The full ICSC Connect Virtual Series episode is available here (Chrome works best).