Reopening stores, supermarkets, and fashion retail during Covid-19: what you need to know
As stores, fashion retailers, and supermarkets in many states receive the go-ahead for reopening, business owners are wondering what operations will look like for them as they strive to meet social distancing guidelines, limits on capacity, and more robust sanitizing protocols.
If you are an owner of a retail store, consumer product outlet, or high/middle street brand shop wondering how to reopen while ensuring the safety of your employees and customers, this guide can help!
We can guide you step-by-step or, you can directly click on the section which is important for you:
- How to assess business preparedness for reopening?
- Reopening Stores, fashion retailers, and supermarkets during Covid-19: What do the owners need to keep in mind?
- New guidelines and regulations
- Social distancing protocols
- Conclusion: Chance for a fresh first impression
How to assess business preparedness for reopening?
Before you start working on reopening plans, you need to ensure that as a business, you are ready to operate amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. To do that, you need to think, discuss, and consult with your team/ partners the following 3 things:
- Financial viability
- Workforce support
- Consumer demand
1. Financial viability
A host of new social distancing and safety guidelines will add some extra costs in your monthly expenses.
You might have to provide masks and sanitizers to your customers/ staff, ensure availability of hand sweeps and arrange for additional resources like temperature guns to follow guidelines.
That’s a big amount to cash at a go, hence you should do a thorough financial analysis of your business and allocate every dime wisely.
Analyze if it is economically viable for your business to operate profitably while following the current reopening guidelines for supermarkets, stores, and shops.
2. Workforce support
Your workforce comes first.
Understand their perspective about reopening your store and clearly communicate the risks they will be subjected to and your plans to mitigate these risks. Be transparent with them and reach common ground through these steps:
- Determine the transition plan for your team. Consider timing and traveling issues, their health status, financial backing they require, and binding regulations while forming your team.
- Make your plans and expectations clear. Tell them clearly about how much they’ll be paid, their working hours, and how things will change for them.
- Assess factors competing with an employee’s ability or interest in returning to work, such as a child or eldercare responsibilities or generous unemployment insurance benefits.
- Let them have a say in the sanitation of the store and organize drills to get them up to speed with the new working method.
Ensure that you listen to their POV and try and come to the next step that is mutually beneficial for them and for your business.
3. Consumer demand
Assess the market demand for the products that you sell/ offer.
Given the current scenario, the willingness to return for your consumers will differ widely based on your store type.
For products like essential retails, toiletries, groceries, pharmaceuticals, etc. – there is likely to be a high demand for a long time. Other than these, there can also be a potential rise in demand for products that relate to the current ‘living at home’ situation (like toys, board games, fitness accessories, baking essentials, athleisure, etc.)
However, the demand for other products like travel gear, etc. has dipped. Even if they need these products, people prefer staying indoors and resort to contactless online shopping than going out of their way to purchase these items in-store and put themselves at risk. With the restrictions easing, consumer anxiety might eventually reduce and they can resume shopping, but it will be a gradual change.
Consumer demand can also vary based on the pulse in your community and the social situation. Before making a decision, make sure that you assess the demand for your products and understand if the current situation is profitable for you to reopen.
The bottom line is that you need to assess your business vitals and determine if you are ready to reopen.
If you feel confident that you can run your business successfully given the current situation, get started on your reopening plans now.
But if you don’t feel comfortable, sitting out the first wave of reopening amidst corona and learning from what other store owners are doing is a completely fair option too.
For those who wouldn’t be reopening right away
You’ve decided to wait out the pandemic. You can skip the next few sections and jump here right away! This information will help you plan better for when you decide to reopen your store.
Keep monitoring the situation and reassess your decision based on how things fold out in the next few weeks.
For those who plan to reopen
If you own a non-essential retail store or a consumer/ beauty product outlet or a high street brand shop, get ready to flip the ‘close’ sign on your door. There will be numerous challenges along the way but with careful planning and a steady approach, you can resume your sales quickly.
We’ve listed down best practices that you should consider while reopening your store. We have also included tips and ideas from other store owners who have already reopened their stores.
For those who are already up and running
While running your essential retail, grocery store, pharmacy, or supermarket, you have already witnessed the new shopping era in action.
You can use this guide to cross-check if you’ve followed all guidelines and make sure that the safety measures you’ve taken are adequate. Check out the tools and solutions below which can help you deliver a seamless shopping experience.
Reopening Stores, fashion retailers, and supermarkets during Covid-19: What do the owners need to keep in mind?
1. New guidelines and regulations
Researching guidelines before all planning are extremely crucial to ensure staff and customer safety. Visit your state website or call up your state’s government authorities and maintain a list of all the necessary precautions you need to take.
2. Social distancing protocols
Your store is unique, and it has its own set of challenges and protocols and that’s why it’s important that you make your own SOPs.
Many Industry associations have given frameworks to design your operating procedures. You can use these as references to make your own SOP which includes how you’re going to manage crowd, supplies, customers, and employees. You can find the detailed checklist by NRF for the reopening of retail stores here.
Avoiding long queues
With the lifting of government-enforced restrictions, people will slowly be returning to stores. The problem is that if customers arrive at grocery stores, hypermarkets, and pharmacies at any point in time, they would have to stand for an unknown period of time. This can cause long queues to form outside your stores which can be a virus hotspot.
To remedy this:
- Implement time-based shopping: Ask customers to book a slot beforehand so that they know exactly when to arrive.
- Request your customers to arrive not very long before their designated time slots.
- If people arrive early, request them to wait in their cars and not gather outside the store.
PS: Sending people email/ text reminders about their appointments will ensure that they don’t miss it + you can also include the request to arrive no earlier than 5-10 minutes before their scheduled time slot. You can ask your receptionist/ manager to do this, or automate these using online scheduling software.
Limited customer capacity
Customer capacity management can help you limit the number of people inside your store at a given time and avoid crowding to prevent your premises from becoming a virus hotspot.
To do this, first, understand your state’s occupancy guidelines. Most state guidelines specify the number of people per sq. feet of your store area. You can refer to the guidelines provided by the local authorities in your state and calculate your store’s safe customer capacity accordingly.
To implement capacity management at your store:
- Get your customers to pre-book shopping slots and manage your store capacity. You can specify the number of people that can enter your store during a time slot and only allow people with pre-booked slots to enter. Many store owners are exploring online scheduling tools to implement this.
- You can also limit the shopping time if you’re requesting them to book predefined slots so that you can easily manage the customer inflow.
- Manage your staff schedules. Consider your staff while calculating your store’s safe capacity. Implement alternating shifts for your employees so that the number of people in your store at any given time is reduced and no one stays idle.
Contactless check-ins and check-outs
It’s important for you to appoint staff that would check shopping slots, screen customers, at the door, and manages those who are waiting to go inside.
Use a contactless check-in process to minimize physical contact. With a digital customer database, your staff can simply verify customers by their phone numbers or emails and let the customer in.
Many appointment scheduling software provide a digital customer database that allows this. You can refer here for more information.
You can further minimize physical contact between staff members and customers by enabling contactless payment for your store. Request customers to pay online or scan QR codes to avoid cash and card payments touching your store’s POS.
3. Enhanced sanitation and other safety measures
With cleanliness at the forefront of reopening, store owners will need to increase sanitation, use of personal protective equipment, and design screen measures personalized for their own store. You can refer to CDC’s official sanitation guidance for this.
Additionally, here are a few safety measures you can implement at your store:
- Reopen your store in multiple phases. Operate with minimal workforce initially, and gradually ramp up as demand picks up.
- Separate entrances/exits for staff members if possible and invest in a quality ventilation system.
- Arm all your employees with protective equipment like masks and gloves.
- Take temperature checks of staff members in private for indicative symptoms. Do not allow symptomatic people to physically return to work until cleared by a medical provider.
- Include health and safety talking points in your daily huddles. Make workplace hygiene a priority by constantly reminding your team on the importance of proper hygiene and social distancing.
- If your employees fall sick, they should be asked to work from home until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met.
- Consider temporary closing of public-restrooms, if possible.
- Frequently clean high-touch areas. Double down on cleaning your store by frequently wiping down shelves, door-knobs, counter-tops, and high-touch areas.
- Notify vendors of re-opening and any revised protocol as it relates to store entry, deliveries, paperwork, etc.
- Transition to contactless signatures/ digital signatures for deliveries.
If your store has fitting rooms, decide whether to re-open fitting rooms. If you decide to open them, ensure fitting rooms are “customer ready” by cleaning prior to any customer usage. You can also add cleaning time between two fittings and also air out the tried item for a few hours or a day.
4. Customer screening
Screening your customers for symptoms at the entrance can help you spot any potentially sick person.
Decide whom to assign at the gate for customer screening and equip them with protective equipment like face shields and gloves, or if possible, full-body armor.
Make use of temperature guns for a quick and accurate report. If a customer is found with symptoms, make arrangements to isolate him from the rest. Put provisions in a place like online delivery or pick up at a separate time to deliver items on such customers’ product list.
If you are accepting customers by appointments, you can also ask them to fill in a short questionnaire and sign a waiver form before booking an appointment. This will allow you to screen all customers before they even reach your front door.
Take contact information and other details of customers shopping with you for contact tracing in case of an infection.
5. Staff training
An exhaustive training with all your staff members about the new changes at your store and updated guidelines can help prepare them for likely employee relations scenarios that might arise once you reopen.
Customers that visit your store amidst Covid-19 can be skeptical and vigilant which can be different from what your staff is used to handling. Teach your employees to talk politely with customers and handle their requests patiently. Train employees in telework who are not in-store and upskill them in answering customer queries.
Create a plan and guidance for employees who must engage with visitors, including customers, who are not adhering to the required employer or state/local mandates. Design an escalation process and specify who and how they can reach out to in such cases (aisle managers, store manager, head, local authorities, etc.). You can refer to these guidelines for staff training.
6. Customer education
Your customers are your business. Communicating the new store safety rules to customers clearly is at the crux of your successful reopening.
- Create a list of rules and regulations to include the expected consumer behavior on the physical environment and personal conduct.
- Post these rules in the form of banners or pop-ups on your store website.
- Send a copy of these guidelines in the appointment confirmation emails/ texts to customers who have scheduled a time slot to visit your store.
- Display a checklist of important safety steps that they should take during shopping at the entrance.
- Put posters or digital banners across your store updating them about the latest rules and guidelines for your state.
7. Redefine your store’s operations
Currently stores are optimized for shoppers to spend maximum time in the store. They would walk until the end of the aisle and spend a lot of time. But today you need to reduce shopping times and serve more with limited capacity. Achieve this by rearranging your displays, keeping essentials in the starting sections of your store. Properly label your products, prices, aisles, and add signs so that people can easily navigate in your store without having to interact much with your store workers.
High Street shops should minimize trials and limit giving accessories for trying. Nikki Gillette, the owner of clothing boutique Lee & Birch, plans to limit clothing pieces on display to one of each size. If a customer tries on an item and doesn’t purchase it, it will sit in the back until the next day to air out, Gillette said.
8. Use of technology
With everything that you have to take care of given the current crisis, technology can be your best friend right now.
While many store owners have always used store management tools, due to COVID19, many first time users are trying new tools to help them run their business – especially all-in-one online scheduling tools. This shift is caused by:
A transition from the traditional walk-in regimen to time-based shopping
With a fixed time slot scheduled for visiting stores, customers can avoid inconveniences caused by long queues and get a safe, relaxed shopping experience.
Retail chain Best Buy has announced to open their stores and offer delivery, consultations, exchanges, and repair by appointment scheduling only.
The need for a comprehensive customer database
Collecting and storing important client information has never been more important. If things go south, a comprehensive database with customer travel history, appointment details, etc. can help in efficient contact tracing.
Virtual team meetings
During the lockdown, many stores came up with creative ways to engage with their teams remotely. As some of them reopen, they are still keeping these video conferencing team meetings afloat to minimize physical contact. Online scheduling tools make these viable with their integration with popular video-conferencing platforms like Zoom.
“We’re amazed by how much we’ve been able to achieve by #Zoom….It’s been a testament to the innovation of our people and the adaptability of our teams.”— @CrateandBarrel’s CEO Neela Montgomery #RetailLeadership.
Store owners are fast adopting appointment scheduling software to help them through these challenging times.
We at Appointy have been receiving hundreds of requests from stores, retail shops, and supermarkets to set up online scheduling for their business over the last few weeks.
Being an easy-to-use, cloud-based appointment scheduling software, Appointy can help you implement social distancing guidelines, adapt to the post COVID19 world, and run your store efficiently.
9. Bonus: How to ensure proper implementation of safety measures?
A few tips to help you implement all the above safety protocols effectively:
- Assemble a ‘Return to work’ team. Give them reminders throughout the day and have them monitor your business using security cams.
- Update your waiver forms for COVID-19 and take attested forms from all your employees.
- Create a COVID-19 “playbook” with your operating procedures clearly listed. Share it with your employees and revisit the document frequently. Ensure that practices and protocols are followed and updated based on changing conditions.
- Make a back-to-work checklist for your employees and ask them to fill it on a daily basis. Note down their temperature (safe body temperature is below 100.4 F), ask if they have had contact with any Covid19 patient recently, and keep a count of the number of times they’ve sanitized the entire store.
Conclusion: Chance for a fresh first impression
COVID-19 has infected nearly five million people with 1.5 million in the USA alone. This has hugely impacted the way in-store shopping is perceived, the way it operates, and the way it will engage our customers.
Retail will look and feel different for a while – but that is not a bad thing necessarily.
The silver lining here is that due to Covid-19, you have a new opportunity to redefine the way you run your store or supermarket.
You can use technology to shift to a more efficient way of managing your business and collect important insights on consumer behaviour.
You can build better relationships with your customers and staff members by caring about their safety and well-being.
You can completely change the way your customers perceive your business.
It’s an opportunity for you to stand out from your competitors, build a safe brand image, and cast a fresh first impression on your staff and your customers. Keep that in mind as you start working on reopening your store amidst Covid-19.
We wish you luck with your ventures.
Disclaimer: The information which is summarised herein does not constitute medical or other professional advice and is general in nature. It does not take into account your specific circumstances and should not be acted on without full understanding of your current situation and future goals and objectives. In doing so you risk making commitment to a strategy that may not be suitable to your needs. Whilst we have tried to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the contents of this website, you should verify all information and facts independently.
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium business face every day.
If you have any thoughts on this blog, or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below.
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