Recent data shows that UK retail footfall dropped by 75.1 per cent in the week beginning 22 March and by 81.4 per cent the week following. It’s a pattern mirrored across all economies that have implemented lockdown, and an unprecedented shock to brick-and-mortar brands, many of whom were already fighting for survival.

Physical retailers are having to accept that their customer base is going through a crash course in how to meet all their consumption needs via digital channels. According to the Forter Global Merchant Network, US e-commerce marketplaces saw a 14 per cent increase in volume from March 23 to March 30. Accounts have been created, addresses filled and banking details handed over – there’s no looking back.

For those who already had a strong omnichannel retail play, they’ll have to ask whether these customers will continue to see sense in visiting their stores. For those who didn’t, they’ll have to ask whether they’ll ever see these customers again.  If they are, it’ll only be through establishing their premises not solely as experiential playgrounds – the last decade’s tactic for drawing people offline – but also as trusted and transparent safe havens.

‘Right now, there's fear as customers move through a store,’ Daniel Binder, a partner at Columbus Consulting, tells Retail Dive. ‘What retailers will have to figure out is how to bring a sense of structure and calm.’

This is important not only to inspire confidence in what are likely to now be hyper-hygiene-conscious consumers, but also to ensure operations will be able to continue as close to the new normal as possible should another such event (or relapse) occur. Over the following days, we’ll publish a series of articles that map out what we think that might look like.

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