Most of us are living very different lives than we were a few months ago. Even though the priorities in the grand scheme of things are stopping the spread of the virus, keeping people safe, and caring for those who are sick, it’s OK to miss the little things. Some of mine are: strolling around the supermarket thinking about nothing other than what to have for dinner. Being drawn into a clothing store by a window display and trying on a new outfit. Shamelessly trying out countless make-up, perfume, and beauty product testers in a department store. Hmm, it seems like my ‘little things’ can be boiled down to one thing…shopping!
For retail, it sadly won’t be a case of waiting for everything to blow over in a couple of weeks and going back to normal – we’ll be learning to navigate a different reality, and retail establishments are already adapting. Print and technology are both playing key roles in our ‘new normal’, getting creative to keep us safe and keep us spending.
We know that direct mail has a (literally) captive audience right now, we know that direct mail influences online behaviour such as visiting websites, making online transactions, using an online voucher, and engaging with the brand (Royal Mail MarketReach). We also know that or retail purposes, augmented reality is a hugely effective visualisation tool. If we can’t have reality, why not try augmented reality? Brands are utilising AR during this pandemic to replace in-store experiences, such as testing a make-up product at a beauty counter, digitally mapping outfits on models on fashion platforms, testing what furniture looks like in your own home with IKEA’s AR app (they were ahead of the game on this one, this was launched in 2017). AR works harmoniously with print, especially at a time like this.
Many are still getting to grips with social distancing rules, but as we adapt to a potentially long-term situation, an ‘X’ in marker pen on the floor isn’t going to cut it. A combination of print and technological solutions can help maintain the balance between safety concerns and an enjoyable, not-too-disrupted consumer experience, such as in-store vinyl stickers for social distancing and wayfinding and standard hygiene signage that can be customised for branding and tone of voice. There are huge print opportunities for brands; Brown’s, a luxury London retailer, worked with a design consultancy to create a new in-store concept that created a grid system and divided areas that also used pop-up brand installations, keeping customers safe and influencing their buying experience simultaneously. As retail technology increases in stores, such as digital queue management displays and automated sales assistant processes to minimise human contact, brands will have to ensure interaction with customers isn’t reduced to sterile, empty retail spaces, and print can play an important part in reinforcing brand identity and trust.
With many more of us shopping online and for a wider variety of products, it’s a great opportunity for packaging to get creative. There are flat, letterbox-safe bottles of wine, redesigned fresh flower packaging, and beauty brands redesigning product packaging to fit through the door. As well as finding innovative ways to get your product to your customers, brands need to ensure they are delivering an engaging, personalised customer experience at a time like this, and packaging plays a key role. Smart packaging can help take that experience further, helping your customers unlock a world of content, brand information, and entertainment, something many customers certainly have the time to do. Everybody’s cooking at home, maybe you’re the packaging of your food or cookware product gives your customer access to a library of recipes. Kids aren’t at school, maybe the packaging of the homeschooling supplies you ordered takes them to a fun and educational interactive game.
This could be a great catalyst for the evolution of retail; bricks and mortar stores were collapsing around us before coronavirus, and many weren’t reacting to the changing consumer landscape quickly enough, or at all. It will be interesting to see how shopping becomes more experiential, and how it accommodates the need for a seamless but safe customer journey.
Karis Copp is a UK-based writer, journalist, and communications expert. With a background as an editor and public relations specialist in the print industry, she now works on a freelance basis covering events, writing on industry news and trends, and working with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppWrites.