Physical Distancing: Retail's New Normal

In a post Covid-19 world, physical distancing is going to become the new normal in retail but can design help mitigate its impact and become part of the experience? fcbusiness speaks to David Dunn, managing director of 442 Design about how clubs can meet those challenges in the sports retail environment.


What challenges do clubs face right now?

There’s a lot of uncertainty and unknown around the game, when it’s going to start and how that’s going to impact the matchday experience and I think clubs have got a critical role in how they respond to that in the short-term and long-term.


I think at the moment football clubs are in a unique position that they have the opportunity to create a sense of purpose and a real community focus for the towns and cities they’re based in and therefore they’ve got an opportunity to give a little bit of confidence back to local people.


Working within the guidance available there’s a way for clubs to help people connect with both the environment of the outside world but also to start to build a bit of a revenue stream which I know they will be absolutely desperate for in the short-term.


Physical distancing is about keeping people apart but football is built on the closeness of the crowd and the atmosphere it creates. How can good design mitigate the impact of physical distancing within the football retail environment?

It’s critically important that people have got comfort and confidence in an environment which is looked at properly when they go to a store. The key is to get a flexible layout and a store design which suits the purpose.


There are a number of things we can do to create routes and pathways for customers to walk around, and in actual fact, you can add that to your advantage because you can then get customers to enter a shop and guide them to parts they wouldn’t normally go to.


There’s also an opportunity the fans to see what the club’s have been up to during the shutdown and how they’ve been working in the community, or what the players have been up to, there’s a lot of really good social media content out there that can be relayed and played in the store to create an environment that creates a fun experience.


Ultimately, everyone wants an experience in-store that’s better than the online experience or elsewhere. The key thing is that you think about it as a visitor attraction like Disney where the queuing is actually part of the experience itself.


You can contain the queue, get people to arrive at certain time slots, you can give them a reason to visit – every club is going to be looking at their new kit launch for instance for the new season. That’s an opportunity to combine online sales with the actual potential visit to the stadium, but with limited numbers accessing the store which might lead to additional revenue.


There are other ways in which we can use the stadium environment to work in your favour. At the moment, ticketing offices might not be getting used so they could become a click and collect spot. That might be a good way of repurposing some of the spaces they have in the stadium environment.


Car parks too, you have the opportunity to do things like personalisation or shirt printing pop-ups and guide people around outdoors. I think it’s about being a little bit creative around how you use the stadium environment as somewhere safe, within the guidelines but use that opportunity to communicate a little bit about the story of the club and what they’ve been doing.


Storytelling – Is this a key retail process that should also involve the club’s media and marketing departments?

There‘s a huge opportunity for collaboration with the partnership and sponsorship staff at clubs. There’s an opportunity here to extend their local contacts, there’s an opportunity for clubs and stores to set up support networks and there’s opportunities for new partners looking for an outlet and way to communicate information and new propositions.


In terms of store design, every club has got its own story to tell. Every single club has a unique history and unique defining moments and it’s about capturing those within the design to enhance the key messages and moments that project the emotions that fans can relate to. All this can be applied to the guiding principles of good retail practice.


Is there going to be a process of learning as we get used to the aspects of physical distancing?

There should always be a lot of close engagement with fans. We know there are big differences between a matchday and non-matchday environment and at this moment in time we’re in a non-matchday environment so it’s about giving supporters reasons to visit.


Obviously that all needs to be under the observation and guidance of the government but I’ve seen retailers reopening following the lifting of restrictions and doing it in a very functional way and there’s an opportunity to layer that up with a little bit of storytelling and emotion.


A lot of clubs that we work with have got very strong and supportive kit sponsors  and there’s a lot of expertise brought in that way. They are always looking for ways to create new reasons to visit and new experiences that fans relate to.


Local collaborations will help create a feel-good factor and that can help access untapped local markets. We’ve been social distancing for a while but once we’re back at a stage where we’ve got stadiums open again, there might be an untapped local market out there that the club has the opportunity to step forward to become a social hub for them. So it’s not just about the kit or the retail experience, there’s a whole new experience that can go with it.


How do you create a space that marries the differing aspects of a matchday and non-matchday?

It’s all about flexibility of the store format. The key to a matchday is that sweet spot before a game and potentially for an hour after the game where you’re going to have a lot of custom. The difference is that often the sales per head are slightly lower because people are more in a rush but being ready for that with a good floor layout, creating good adjacencies and destination points in-store can help.


Quick speed of service is key so that sales are going to be efficient, and we’re moving to a cashless environment so from that point of view you need to be clever and look at Epos and cashless systems. This gives clubs the opportunity to not be encumbered with cash till-drawers so technically there could be more till points or locations where you can pay quickly and that is a better way to drive revenue particularly on a matchday.


On a non-matchday, you want several reasons to be hanging around the store. Use multimedia in an effective way. There’s lots of technology out there that can enhance the story of the club.


I think we will see the return of QR codes in a big way because they are so cheap and easy to connect and add a layer of content to. You can personalise or talk through a product simply through a QR code. I also think there are things around existing apps that we can tap into that are not necessarily going to be expensive for clubs that don’t have the infrastructure. It’s about being clever and really trying to combine an interesting and unique story whilst giving people reasons to buy things.


The danger for clubs is that they’re probably going to be sitting on a lot of inventory that they’ve had left over from the closure so maybe that can be bundled up and provide a value product that encourages a visit to the store. It’s about having people return to the store in a managed way and re-engaging and enjoying the experience of going back to the stadium.


What’s your advice for football club executives as they look ahead to the potential restart of the season or to the start of next? 

Normally a lot of our work in hospitality or retail fit-outs is crammed into the close season so it’s a rush to do things, but from the point of view at the moment you have the unique opportunity to really plan properly to get things right. I say take a step back, think about things properly, think about the things you really want.


A project can be anything from six months to a year in the planning anyway, but realistically there’s going to be a period in time where there’s going to be less restrictions on people but there will be restrictions on crowd sizes. So let’s turn that into to our advantage and see how we can make this new era look right for us. How do we reposition and re-purpose space? Plan properly to design the spaces so that it feels comfortable when we do go back to the football as normal.


Use the time to strategise and plan now to get it right so that the results can be better and you get better value from your work. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world at the moment but the one thing we can control is how the fixed environment looks when we do get back.