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COVID-19 has posed unprecedented and previously unheard-of challenges for retailers of all kinds, but none more so than those that do brick-and-mortar sales. The result has been a massive shift in how we approach doing business via physical locations. 

In a survey of more than 400 brick-and-mortar retailers by Raydiant, 29% of respondents said they planned to close their physical locations permanently to go online-only, while 14% said they intend to downsize the scope of their brick-and-mortar offerings.

For the majority of merchants, however, closing or downsizing physical locations aren’t feasible business options. For most, staying in business will depend on reopening in-person stores in at least some capacity. If you’re part of this group of retailers, we’ve compiled the top advice from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Retail Federation and others to help you reopen safely. 

Follow All Federal, State and Local guidelines

Looking into the mandated requirements where you live should be your first step as you move toward reopening. This will ensure you’re on the right side of the law when it comes to things like occupancy numbers, mask wearing, and other policies. If you fail to comply with these guidelines, whether knowingly or by accident, you risk a fine, or worse, a suspension of your business license. 

Most mandates that deal with the reopening of retail stores are set at the state level, though some municipalities have their own guidelines, as well. You can find a detailed breakdown of state-by-state reopening guidelines here

Establish Your Reopening Procedures

A thorough and carefully considered plan is the key to a safe and successful brick-and-mortar reopening. Outline the procedures your staff and customers will be expected to follow in close detail. 

These should include, at a minimum:

  • The number of people allowed in the store at any given time and how you’ll monitor this
  • If and how customers will be screened (i.e. instant temperature checks upon entry)
  • Your policies for mask wearing and how you’ll respond to non-compliant guests
  • Any quantity limits (i.e. two per customer) you’ll impose to inhibit hoarding
  • Adjusted policies for try-ons and returns
  • Disinfecting procedures and frequency for inventory and equipment
  • Scheduling of staff and adjusted store hours
  • Protocols for communicating with customers
  • How you’ll respond to any positive tests among staff

Adapt Your Physical Layout to Suit the Guidelines

If you’ve been to the grocery store since the pandemic began, you’ve probably noticed many of these adaptations already in place. No matter what type of business you operate, your space will likely need some retrofitting to accommodate social distancing guidelines. 

Consider implementing a one-way traffic flow delineated by floor markers or signage to reduce contact among shoppers. Install sneeze guards to separate checkout staff from guests and one register from the next. Consider installing new air circulation machinery to improve fresh air flow and use the highest efficiency filters available.

Prepare Your Staff

In addition to preparing your space for the changes, you also need to invest in preparing your team. 

Provide training on Coronavirus symptoms, spread and precautions for prevention. Let them know what to expect in terms of workplace screening and schedule adjustments. Allocate time for regular hand-washing and stagger employee breaks to minimize contact. 

Next, address how your business will deal with PPE like masks and gloves. Will you be providing these, or will employees be expected to bring their own? Will you reimburse for these expenses? Also, educate employees on proper protocols for PPE wear and care, like how frequently masks should be washed and when gloves should be changed. 

Inform Your Customers

The more you can inform your customers about what to expect when they come back to your store, the less of a chance for unwanted surprises or negative in-store experiences. 

Use emails and social media posts to share the updated procedures you established in step two. Update your Google listing and website with your adjusted store hours and any other need-to-know information, like whether a mask is required for entry.

In the store itself, use clear, bold signage to help customers navigate properly and maintain social distance. Consider having a staff member act as a designated social distancing ambassador to provide customers with guidance and keep traffic flowing, or use in-store announcements over your P.A. system to issue regular reminders.

Offer Socially Distanced Shopping Alternatives

Despite your best efforts to provide a safe and seamless in-store experience, some shoppers still won’t feel comfortable stepping foot in your store. Don’t leave their money on the table.

Instead, provide socially distanced alternatives like curbside pickup and local delivery that allow them to take advantage of your brick-and-mortar reopening with less contact. According to the Raydiant survey we mentioned above, 21% of retailers began offering curbside services during the pandemic while 31% started offering delivery. 

Offer contactless payment options like RFID card readers, Apple Pay and Google Pay to further limit physical touchpoints.

Maintain and Revise Your Plan

If there’s one thing that’s been a constant during the pandemic, it’s change. Expect that your reopening will come with some growing pains and plan to adapt and revise as necessary. 

To minimize the impact to customers and operations, consider taking a phased approach that will give you the time you need to monitor the effectiveness of your plan and make any needed changes between phases. Be transparent with customers and update them at every step in the process, which not only helps minimize negative experiences but builds trust in your brand.

Further Reading

Don’t go it alone on your reopening journey; rely on our nation’s health and business experts in addition to the relevant government agencies for guidance on the appropriate actions to take. Here are some of the resources we’ve found the most helpful. 

National Retail Federation’s Coronavirus Resources for Retailers

The NRF has a wealth of information on reopening logistics, supply chain considerations, staff preparation, liability issues and more. We especially recommend their Operation Open Doors reopening checklist

Centers for Disease Control Guide for Disinfecting Workplaces

This thorough guide acts as a manual for disinfecting your store before you reopen and maintaining sanitary conditions once you do. 

Environmental Protection Agency’s Disinfectants For Use Against COVID-19

With cleaning products still in short supply around the country, it can be hard to know whether your disinfection efforts are actually effective. This is an extensive list of approved products that target the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen.