Most retailers have in some way modified their store operations in order to facilitate social distancing to protect customers and staff from the coronavirus. However, key challenges remain, such as:
- Difficulty determining which stores to reopen due to the uneven nature of the recovery
- Consumer behaviour may be altered
- Potential for too many customers in the store at one time
- Crowds forming outside due to set maximum entry limits at store entrances
This blog post will offer solutions for retailers who want to still deliver a high quality experience to their customers whilst also following social distancing rules. This post will offer a range of solutions to the four challenges as set out above. For full UK Government guidance on social distancing, please visit the gov.uk dedicated web page .
A recent survey commissioned by global commerce services company PFS found that when asked about their perceptions of brands’ responses to the pandemic, 52% of all consumers agree that they feel greater loyalty towards brands that effectively communicate with them and show how they’re helping people during this time (source). This finding is really valuable for retailers as it can help shape your brand’s strategy in a multitude of ways. For instance it can inform your marketing messaging as well as your in store operations and staff training programme. An idea could be to open your stores at different times of the day and with tailored offers. Think about best practices in your industry. These tailored offers could include offering contact-free deliveries and elderly-only trading hours. Overall, it’s important to think about the long-term implications of the lockdown and not just the short-term impact of our current restrictions.
Many retailers across the globe are using a phased strategy to reopen stores. In the US, this will depend on each state’s ordinances and agreements. Some retailers have opened select trial stores that operate shorter opening hours.
Before stores reopen however, ensure that all systems are functioning and that you’re able to deliver an effective flow of information both internally and with your customers and suppliers. For instance, any out-of-stock situations that occurred in the past must be solved and supported by clear communication about when shelves will be restocked for full service. This is about managing customer expectations and delivering on your brand promise which is the best way to reassure customers and retain their loyalty.
In order for customers to feel comfortable shopping in your store, it’s really important to ensure that social distancing is possible. It’s advisable to first consider the size of your store and look up regulations to check if there is a rule as to how many people are allowed per square metre (or feet) in indoor spaces (such as in Australia). This will help you determine the desired maximum occupancy number for your store. Knowing this figure is important as there are now technology solutions on the market that provide automated real time occupancy management. One such solution is Occupi which works with access control to allow the store to set the maximum occupancy level. When this number has been met, the sign at the entrance will display ‘FULL’ and the automatic doors will not open. It’s a really cost-effective solution for facilitating social distancing.
Where queuing is taking place, you should use a queue management system to maintain a safe distance. Signage should be used to inform customers of the system and to make them aware of how the system works.
It’s also a good idea to stagger the amount of customers that can enter your store at one time during the first hour of opening every day. Such a feature can be easily configured with an automated occupancy system, such as Occupi. Furthermore, a system with a remote connection allows Store Managers to change the occupancy level at any time, to respond to events on site and control the flow of customers.
Occupi allows your store to easily control occupancy levels in an orderly fashion, without the need for staff to monitor access to the store. This removes human error from occupancy levels, keeps staff and customers safe, and reduces ongoing costs associated with manned security.