4 ways to bring post-pandemic customers back to the grocery store

Hint: Agility is key in the changing economic landscape

As our nation was adapting to a work-from-home and safer-at-home mindset, our country’s grocery stores were slammed with business. Lines at entrance points wrapped around buildings, parking lots were full and sales skyrocketed as America stocked up for pandemic lockdowns. Afterward, stores had decidedly less foot traffic, as consumers were encouraged to practice social distancing and minimize trips out of the home. Meanwhile, online sales, including for grocery delivery, curbside pickup and buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS) reached new heights. Agile grocery stores weathered the shift most easily, shifting to these emerging modes of product delivery.

Though the pandemic itself may not abate anytime soon, we are seeing a movement away from lockdowns and safer at home decrees. Yet social distancing remains the norm, anxiety among the public remains high and cultural tension related to appropriate protective measures has played out in retail spaces. With so much to navigate, store leaders are understandably seeking the keys to a successful emergence from the pandemic. To help you along the way, here are four ways to bring post-pandemic customers back to the grocery store.

Driving foot traffic back to grocery stores after stay-at-home orders

Focus on local

The economic upheaval in the wake of lockdowns is sure to see a consumer shift toward local. Consumers know that tough economic times have hit local, family-run organizations especially hard, and they’ve also grown savvy to the economic realities of spending locally. If your grocery store is family-run or locally owned, be sure to communicate your commitment to the community. If your organization supports local nonprofit groups, clubs, sports or charities, this is a good time to underscore that commitment or increase your pledge to help with recovery. Take great care with marketing messages, and stay mindful of the sensitivity of the situation.

Make shopping easier

Online grocery sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Chances are you’ve adjusted to this new reality. As the pandemic ebbs and flows, making it easy for customers to order online, pick up their purchases or schedule delivery is critical. It may not be the physical foot traffic you would like to see, but it will help you stay connected and relevant to your customer base, so when they’re ready, they’ll return to you in person.

Turning to online sales or beefing up your current capabilities to meet demand, may mean exploring opportunities to construct sites for pick-up only or remodeling to make back-of-store order processing and fulfillment faster and easier. It may even be worthwhile to reclaim underused store space for order fulfillment. If the time is right, a design-build team can help your vision become a reality.

Let’s face it, permanent adoption of these new shopping habits is likely, particularly as the pandemic itself drags on. You may even realize cost savings in increased efficiencies and decreased overhead from in-store sales, as stocking, display, cleaning and customer assistance needs evolve.

Make shopping safer

Consumers want to feel safe in the shopping environment, and stores that are willing to adopt solutions are likely to bring shoppers back sooner. You may want to consider adding hand sanitizing stations throughout your store or even putting in some new handwashing stations for customers. Self-service food bars may go away, be repurposed or be remodeled as full-service food bars to accommodate customer concerns about sanitation.

If your store doesn’t already have a policy of providing personal protective equipment for staff, you may want to revisit that, at least in the short term. Signage to guide customers through traffic pattern changes and social distancing markers, as well as in-store educational signs about the measures you are taking for their safety, are essential.

Create an in-store experience

Having customers physically in your store can facilitate planned as well as unplanned purchases. As internet sales have climbed over the years, the retail model for attracting in-store traffic has adjusted accordingly. Grocery stores are now among the bricks and mortar locations seeking to attract consumers. Creating a compelling reason for customers to enter a physical location is essential to drawing them inside your doors. Develop a strategy for incentivizing, rewarding and even entertaining in-store customers to give them a reason to come back.

Preparing for the next chapter of grocery sales

After months of social distancing, many customers are eager to get back out and about, and that includes going back to grocery stores. By creating a space that is safe, shopper-friendly and even fun, you can lay the groundwork for their return to your aisles. And by making shopping as easy as possible for your customers, while demonstrating your enduring commitment to community, you’re sure to build a relationship that can weather this pandemic and beyond.