The COVID-19 pandemic has turned much of daily life on its head and none of us know how long this situation will last. We have had to let go of the familiar and take hold of something new. Our focus on the world and our needs have changed, just like the demands on our everyday lives. This situation opens up new possibilities but also brings with it fear and uncertainty.
Brick-and-mortar retailing is still a major and integral feature of our city centres. Retailers have long been used to coming up with innovative ideas for overcoming challenges, identifying customer needs and creating new incentives to buy. This has not simply been the case since 2020 alone. They have had to adapt to guilds, travelling merchants, colonial importers, the introduction of price labelling, the first shrines to consumerism, mail-order selling, self-service offerings, greenfield shopping centres and, last but not least, online retailing. In spite of all of the imponderables, specialist retailers have always remained a reliable partner to their customers.
In turbulent times when customers face new challenges, retailers also have a role to play in providing structure and stability. Whether their shops are open or have had to close due to coronavirus restrictions, the appearance from outside is always crucial.
And customer communication continues in shop windows. Display windows that provide encouragement and support and show customers how they can still buy from the store build customer loyalty.
To convey this confidence, it helps to return to traditions and values. These are themes that specialist retailers in particular can showcase in their creative designs. For example, they might have a window display that focuses on elegant, hand-crafted, wooden fountain pens and how they are made. Different types of wood in the form of tree discs or veneer wood strips could be used to catch the eye and showcase products. With the help of photos or a short video sequence, the customer could get a glimpse "over the shoulder" of the craftsperson at work and see the individual steps involved. Building on the "craft tradition" theme in-store, an antique work bench might create the right atmosphere. The goods could be presented between the tools, while workpieces in various stages of completion could be used to illustrate the process. This type of display shows the individual nature and reliability of solid craftsmanship and can serve at the same time as a backdrop for presenting goods on social media and thereby encouraging customers to use Call & Collect or Click & Collect services.
The ritual of the holiday postcard can be easily converted into a "mail from your own four walls" theme. A table display with fancy stationery, letterpress postcards, notebooks and beautiful pens may awaken interest in writing again. A creative presentation on a sales floor may also inspire shoppers to surprise a loved one working from home with a nice postcard or some handwritten lines. Or while shops are closed, regular customers might receive a personal greeting via post from their favourite store.
Designers can bring the theme to life in display windows by having lots of envelopes and handwritten sheets (simply hung on thin nylon threads) whirl around a window. The theme can be conveyed to passers-by using a slogan on the window, such as "put a smile on somebody's face with your loving words".
Rituals and traditions serve to anchor us in our everyday lives. They make life more predictable and create certainty. It is often the small everyday things that become more important in uncertain times. A friendly greeting, a straightforward solution to a problem or a surprising window display can make the day seem brighter and more cheerful in spite of the imponderables.
About the author
Sabine Gauditz is an expert in visual marketing in the retail sector. Since 1986, she has been designing and arranging sales-promoting product presentations for various industries and redesigning the ambience of retail spaces. Together with Hans Schmidt, she founded the visual marketing consultancy, Arte Perfectum, in 2002. Since then, she has been holding seminars and workshops and offering in-house consultancy services.