Retailers are on a roller coaster ride. And, while the reopening strategies are different across the country, for many small businesses reopening is unsettling, especially with worker/customer fears of infection and the possibility of closing again.
A successful reopening encompasses three major strategies: compliance to local health guidelines, setting expectations for customers and employees, and creating a comfortable and safe in-store customer experience.
Most local governments have very specific reopening guidelines on best practices for reopening retail stores. Search your county website for a protocol checklist for retail establishments. Your county’s public health department has the jurisdiction to make sure businesses are following protocol, so contact them if you have questions about possible violations.
The rules vary by location, but most follow similar procedures in five key areas:
- Workplace policies and practices to protect employee health
- Measures to ensure physical distancing
- Measures to ensure infection control
- Communication with employees and the public
- Measures to ensure equitable access to critical services
Within each key area, there are specific policies for retail owners to follow. A few policies of note:
- Employees who are not needed in the store should continue to work from home.
- Symptom checks – fever, cough or shortness of breath – should be conducted before employees enter the workspace. You should check for employees with a cough, shortness of breath or fever. Note other symptoms the employee may be experiencing.
- Employee breaks should be staggered, and employees must stay 6-feet apart.
- All store entrances should be monitored in order to track occupancy.
- Check-out stations should minimize exposure between cashiers and customers and use barriers, such as ones made from Plexiglass.
Suggested Reading: Here’s what to Consider as You Re-Open Your Business
Employees and customers will invariably have mixed reactions about returning to retail stores. Some may be incredibly nervous to be around others while others may feel they want to get back to “normal.” In any case, it is the responsibility of the retailer to follow government reopening guidelines and set realistic expectations.
By clearly communicating your expectations to employees and customers, you can reduce or even eliminate confusion and increase the possibility of a successful reopening.
The new rules of retail go beyond complying with government regulations. Working in a time of crisis means employees may have to deal with:
- Stressed-out customers. Whether customers are unnerved by being in public or impatient due to longer lines, employees need to know how to deal with potential conflict or tension.
- Staying home. Gone are the days of coming to work when you don’t feel well—and that includes you, the boss. You might want to update your sick day/PTO policy to make sure sick employees don’t feel financially pressured to come to work.
- Doing jobs not in their job description, such as deep cleaning.
Customers should also know what is expected of them while shopping in your store. Best practices include sending emails informing them about your policies regarding social distancing and wearing masks. Post information on the store’s website and social media channels.
Also, promote the other ways consumers can buy from you, whether from your website or social channels. Are you offering curbside pickup? That can attract shoppers who don’t want to shop in-store.
Finally, post signs about your new procedures and policies around your store.
Create a Winning Store Experience
Despite defining what they can expect, many customers will still feel uneasy shopping in-store. They’re concerned about:
- Being indoors in a place with strangers
- Being near employees and other customers
- The length of time they’re in a store
It’s a good bet that customers will have a better experience if their shopping outing takes place quickly and can be accomplished while maintaining safe social distances.
Make sure you keep the occupancy down to a level comfortable for all involved. Consider widening shopping aisles or adding one-way arrows on floors to direct the flow of traffic so customers can social distance properly.
If your location is conducive, put samples of your merchandise outside your store, so customers don’t have to step inside. If you can, arm employees with tablets to check in-store inventory and allow them to process transactions remotely. Make sure employees are extra helpful and patient and thank each customer for their business.
Remind customers they can “click and collect,” via BOPIS (buy online/pickup in-store) or curbside pickup. You could also temporarily offer free delivery for online orders.
When business actually gets back to normal, customers will remember the extra steps you took to keep them safe and reward you with their loyalty.
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.
Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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