Gone are the days of the ‘normal’ or usual shopping experience of waiting for the sale season, window shopping, strolling through different stores and trying out a bunch of different garments before deciding which one to finally buy.
With COVID-19 fundamentally changing how we view hygiene and safety, the new normal for shopping will be starkly different. From taking appointments to limited trial rooms, retailers are now putting in place several changes to ensure a safe and infection-free shopping experience. With the Ministry of Home Affairs allowing standalone retail stores and malls to open their doors to the public, retailers are toying with several new concepts to comply with MHA’s guidelines.
In a bid to ensure physical distancing, several brands are now taking appointments and booking of slots for customers to avoid waiting in line or crowding in malls.
Bestseller India, which runs brands Veromoda and Only, is allowing customers to book appointments or slots on its website. Vineet Gautam, CEO of Bestseller India, says that they are currently doing limited entries across stores to ensure physical distancing, but are still allowing walk-ins as well.
Brand Factory is also offering assisted shopping, where customers can pre-book a visit to the store by giving a missed call.
Some Tata group retail stores such as Croma and jewellery store Tanishq are also taking bookings on their website. Croma, for example, shows one-hour slots between 9 am and 6 pm across its stores. However, Westside, Tata’s fashion retailer, is not offering appointments yet.
“Currently, we are not following the ‘shop by appointment’ feature. But if we feel the need, we will shift to this model,” Umashan Naidoo, Head of Cosmetics and Customer at Westside told TNM.
Malls, too, are assisting retailers in being able to regulate customer visits. Rajneesh Mahajan, CEO of Inorbit Mall, says that the mall is helping retailers by offering an option to book appointments with the desired retailer on its website whenever a customer wants to visit.
Meanwhile, some stores like Lifestyle are offering options such as virtual shopping, allowing people to shop from home with an assisted virtual tour of the store.
Some stores like FabIndia too, are allowing customers to access their entire product catalogue from home with help of a ‘personal assistant’ to avoid having to visit the store.
Despite online shopping and the convenience it brings with it, offline shopping has continued to thrive over the years because of the touch and feel experience involved in buying clothes. From wanting to understand the material to trying out how it looks and fits, many shoppers still prefer buying offline.
However, with some retailers temporarily halting the use of trial rooms, this experience too, is likely to change.
Retailers such Decathlon and Aravind Fashion (which runs Arrow, Calvin Klein, GAP, US Polo, among others) are shutting trial rooms as a safety precaution.
However, several others, such as Westside, Brand Factory, Lifestyle, Bestseller among others believe that trial rooms are an integral part of the shopping experience. Instead of shutting them, they have put in place several measures to ensure safety wherever state guidelines permit.
“The use of trial rooms are an essential part of any shopping centre. Though there are a lot of brands who will stop the use of trial rooms, we believe that consumers need to experience the material, fit, feel and look of any garment before purchasing. However, understandably, there are constraints in certain regions where we are willing to abide by the rules and keep our trial rooms shut,” Umashan of Westside says.
Across all the retailers TNM spoke to, trial rooms will be sanitised before and after every use.
At Lifestyle, Vasanth Kumar, Managing Director, Lifestyle International says that the merchandise is regularly steamed and disinfected after every trial as well. “At the entrance to the trial room, social distancing is being followed, to ensure crowd control. Additionally, for customers shopping in our stores, we have introduced a ‘buy and try’ service where they can make their purchase and try it at home at their convenience, to further ensure a safe shopping environment,” he adds.
Westside and Bestsellers too, will be steaming all garments after trial.
“In a few places we are trying to quarantine garments for a few hours, but we prefer steaming it. Sanitising them through steam with high temperature ensures any virus is killed,” Vineet of Bestsellers adds.
A Future Retail (Brand Factory and FBB) spokesperson said that tried garments will get quarantined for 48 hours from use and then sanitised, before being put back on shelves. Only two garments will be allowed inside the trial room.
Apart from these, the other standard safety and hygiene measures such as mandatory use of masks, gloves (especially for staff), frequent sanitisation of stores, garments, temperature checks of staff and of customers before entering will be undertaken. Retailers are also placing sanitisers across the store.
With the fear of the virus still lingering among consumers, retailers have seen a significant drop in footfalls in stores that have been opened.
While Lifestyle is expecting adequate footfalls in stores once they open, others such as Westside and Bestsellers hope that footfalls will increase once the festive season approaches.