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John Ryan

Similar but Different

A view on a changed world and its effects on the shopping experience.

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The U.K. has emerged from lockdown, the shops have reopened and as new COVID-19 infections and death rates continue to fall, things seem a lot better than they did just a couple of months ago. The rest of Europe looks on somewhat enviously at a vaccination program that has been rapid and seemingly effective and, yes, there are even people sitting in the sun sipping cappuccinos and passing the time of day.

All good, but are things indeed back to where they were? Of course they’re not, and while we’re all in the shops again, it looks as if it will be a long while before we’re happy to be less than two meters away from the nearest other shopper. Retailers have responded throughout the pandemic by putting one-way systems into their stores, wrapping transparent screens around the checkouts and encouraging shoppers to sanitize when entering and exiting a store.

The point perhaps is that while shops have changed quite substantially over the course of the pandemic, so have shoppers. Wandering into a store may not be the dance of death that many seemed to regard it as at the start of all this, but if somebody gets too close to you in the checkout line, a hard look (insofar as this is possible while wearing a mask) will follow and words may even be exchanged.

For store designers and those in the business of opening new shops generally, it will be a long time before everything feels comfortable and normal. That said, perhaps we just need to accept that this is the way of the future and what once looked weird now seems eminently sensible. Hard-wiring the changes that have occurred into store design is something that has taken place, if not by stealth, at least without many of us really noticing how radically different the outcome is.

Meanwhile we should all enjoy our newfound relative freedom, in the stores and outside them.

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John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.

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