• Charlotte Masters

5 lessons from retail for creating customer friendly post Covid events



With the all important 1st October go live date approaching, we are finally starting to see the green shoots of the events industry re-starting. All major exhibition venues have been showcasing their new safety measures and protocols and the Baby Show has just announced their return to Olympia for their October event.


The fact that Olympia have such a high profile consumer show as their first post Covid event, speaks volumes of their confidence and that of the Organiser's and is really encouraging to see. But, it is safe to say that events won't look or feel anything like they have in the past. Especially given the Government announcement this week, that face coverings must now be worn inside exhibition halls and conference centres at all times, 'unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it'.


With some shops having stayed open throughout lockdown and the remainder being opened up over 2 months ago, the retail industry is currently the voice of experience when it comes to managing the general public in a post Covid setting. With this in mind, I've been looking at how the High Street has gone about welcoming customers back in to their stores and what we can learn from this when it comes to events.


1. ❤️ Show some love ❤️

Communication with customers seemed to get a lot more personal during the pandemic. I received emails from the CEO of Sainsbury's telling me to take care and stay safe. Text messages from the bank letting me know that they were there to help. Enquires from the Ocado driver about the health of my family whilst dropping off the shopping.


And it looks like this trend is here to stay.


Every shop, company or association that I have visited or received any communication from in the past 3 months has, it seems, missed me (or at least missed my transactions).


Shops and restaurants have cheery 'Welcome Back' signs at their entrances and whilst this may in some ways feel a bit cheesy, I have found it to be quite comforting. It's another reminder that whilst things may feel a bit out of kilter, we're all in this together, muddling our way to the new normal.

For annual events that have not been affected by a cancellation or postponement of show dates, 'we've missed you' signs might not feel appropriate but a heartfelt welcome of some sort, acknowledging the current situation is like high-fiving everyone as they come in the entrance, thanking them for making the effort to visit.


2. 👀 People don't always look where you want them to 👀

By now we're pretty familiar with one way systems being in place in public spaces but unfortunately this doesn't stop some people missing them completely (deliberately or otherwise) and entering in the exit and vice versa.


As anyone who has ever installed directional signage at an event knows, people just don't look where you want them to. You put the signs on the floor, they're looking up at eye level, you rig signs at height, they're looking to the floor. We all read rooms/ spaces differently so you need to account for this with multiple touch-points for the same message.


From looking at retail signage for one way systems, I've found the more stylish the sign, the harder it is to spot.


Tasteful floor vinyls with discreet arrows in company colours are near invisible when you are quickly scanning a retail space. The best examples of one way systems I've seen have used contrasting colours from the rest of the store signage, colour coded entries and exits and capital letters.


3. 😄 It's all in the Smise 😄

With face coverings recommended for staff in retail stores who are not behind a screen, many of our interactions are happening with people wearing masks.


Whilst we may be slowly getting used to the face mask look, they can still feel a bit Handmaids Tale and with half your face covered it is much harder to show a smile. As a result, people can often come across as cold or unfriendly when wearing face coverings.

For a smile to be read when you have only got the top 30% of a face to go on, you have to really mean it and smile with your eyes - smise-ing.


We all hungered for interaction with others during lockdown and now we're getting back out and about during what is still an unsettling time, the sight of a friendly and enthusiastic member of staff is not only uplifting but also reassuring. If the colleague is happy, it demonstrates that they feel safe in their role and environment, which translates to making those around them feel confident in their safety whilst on the premises.


4. ❌ Make failing impossible not embarrassing ❌

On a trip out this week I managed to loose my face mask which I have been fastidiously keeping on my person for the last 4 weeks. I am a stickler for the rules and I was mortified upon arriving at the door to John Lewis on my way to their car park, to discover my mask had gone and that I wasn't going to able to comply with their rules of entry and the social expectations of covering my face.


My mind flashed back to a trip to a Fenwick's the previous week, when I had been greeted by a member of staff who had a box of disposable masks with them, alongside the hand sanitiser.


If only JLP had followed suit! Instead I had to walk up the car ramp in to the car park to avoid the embarrassment of explaining myself to the store staff, or face the reproaching looks from fellow shoppers.


For some visitors, your event may be the first time they have been out out, so making it impossible for anyone to fail to comply with all your regs in regards sanitiser, masks etc by having spares on hand. will save any anxieties and ensure for a smoother entrance process and more positive experience.


5. ☕️ Make time and space for a break ☕️

Wearing face masks is hot and constantly sanitising your hands and anything you've touched with your non sanitised hands is a bit exhausting, so its understandable that many of us have adopted a 'get in and get out' mentality, limiting the time we are in public places.


This might be great for improving the productivity of your weekly shop but it does not spell good news for the event industry. Multi hall expos and conferences with packed content schedules rely on people investing a good day (at least) in attending their event. If dwell times dwindle, exhibitors and speakers could end up seeing less visitors and be left feeling short changed.


To combat this, we need to go against the old adage of 'keeping everything in hall' and look at introducing longer natural breaks in content to give visitors a chance to visit outside space, take off their mask and get some fresh air.


Expect exhibitors and visitors to come in and out a number of times throughout a full day and plan for it.


✅Dedicate a fast track lane for exhibitors and ensure that re-admission is easy for all.

✅Show routes to the nearest outdoor break out space on your show guide/ floorplan.

✅Install signage at these locations if you can.

✅Timetables and coming up next messaging will work especially well to draw visitors back.

✅If the venue (and weather) permits, locate a here to help desk in these outdoor areas too to act as an ambassador for your event.