Consumer-facing services and retail businesses in parts of the US are readying themselves to reopen. But judging from current guidelines, grocery store experiences, and global examples like Shanghai Disneyland’s reopening, one thing is crystal clear: Don’t expect a “return to normal” anytime soon.

Your customer is a key reason why. COVID-19 will cast a long shadow on customer attitudes, behavior, and trust and create a pervasive impact on how people want to interact with physical locations and the employees, services, and products they offer.

To encourage customers to come back and usher in economic recovery, companies must plan to redesign their physical-location experiences to address customer fears of COVID-19 and their desire to maintain social distancing. As businesses transition from closure and temporary hacks into longer-term solutions and aim to reinforce customers’ perception of safety, they can:

  • Improve and communicate safety measures. In addition to following federal and local guidelines, plan to build customer trust through clear communication and multisensory indicators of physical safety such as visibly clear surfaces and dispersed crowds. But keep a pulse on privacy concerns: Devices such as contactless infrared thermometers could monitor entire stores, but will this biometric monitoring of all customers be accepted?
  • Redesign services to reduce human contact for now. Essential businesses that changed their operations while remaining open can provide a blueprint for other businesses — in fact, Kroger created and publicly released its best practices. Changes to make to services and operations to improve the experience will include reserved hours for at-risk populations, curbside pickup, shields between customers and employees, and offering plenty of hand sanitizer.
  • Redesign physical layouts and signage to create clear pathways for customers. High-touch, browsing-inducing experiences will give way to those that let concerned customers get what they need quickly, easily, and independently. Optimizing in-store signage, swapping free-flow layouts for grid layouts, and providing multimodal, accessible guidance are some changes that can help. For example, arrows on the floor for single-direction aisles that are easily missed will have to be replaced with longer-term, visually salient signs.
  • Digitally augment journeys for contactless product exploration and purchase. Customer acceptance of digital technologies has accelerated in response to the rapidly increasing dependence on technology. For example, 19% of US online adults agreed that in response to COVID-19 they “are using contactless payments more to avoid touching screens and other physical surfaces in stores.” Now is the time to implement these technologies and trial new experiences to reduce customer reliance on employee interactions or product trials, such as in-app aisle navigation aids, augmented-reality product overlays, and voice- or gesture-controlled interactions.

Find more examples and learn what else businesses can do to successfully reopen their doors in just-published research, Redesign Physical Spaces Now In Response To COVID-19. And check back, as analysts Andrew Hogan, Rick Parrish, and myself will continue to explore new guidelines, examples, and the customer reactions to these measures as this continues to evolve.