Reopening Retail: Social Distancing for Shoppers

Shopping Mall Food CourtBrick-and-mortar retailers have been hit particularly hard by the current coronavirus pandemic. As states slowly begin to allow certain workplaces to reopen, retailers need to bring their employees back, keep customers safe, and adapt operations to a new normal, all while adhering to local government guidelines. It’s a time of uncertainty, but there are a few things retailers can do to smooth the process and safely welcome customers again.

The National Retail Federation has established recommendations for a path to reopen retail. Its plan, called “Operation Open Doors,” provides guidance for bringing employees and customers back—including a handy checklist, information on where all 50 states stand, and more resources. The NRF’s top guidelines include recommendations on health and safety policies, social distancing, and implementing certain changes to the way merchandise is presented.

New Health and Safety Practices

Hygiene is now more important than ever—particularly in places such as retail stores, where there is a high potential for shared contact. The CDC has established guidance on hygiene in the workplace to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Conducting temperature screenings, providing masks for employees, and asking customers to wear their own face coverings may be necessary. If employees feel sick, they should be encouraged to stay home; make sure you communicate any new policies to your workers as they come back.

A routine cleaning regimen will need to be incorporated into daily tasks. Retail has a few high-touch areas in particular that should be cleaned constantly, including:

  • Shopping carts and baskets
  • Shared tools between employees, such as pricing guns
  • The cash register, including touch screens and PIN pads
  • Self-serve kiosks or self-checkout
  • Conveyor belts and other types of checkout counters
  • Any other identified “high-touch” surfaces on the sales floor

Social Distancing in Retail

Social distancing is particularly difficult in retail settings. Some stores are implementing one-way aisles or otherwise redesigning so it’s possible for customers to have more space. In many states, stores are allowed to open, but below their normal capacity. This provides more space and helps stagger point-of-sale terminals so employees can also keep their distance from each other.

In retail, people tend to end up waiting in line, whether they’re ready to check out, or they’re waiting to come in the store because it’s already at maximum capacity. In these areas where people will line up, social distancing still applies. Put social distancing strips or floor tape shapes on the ground to help customers visually see where they need to stand to keep a safe distance. Signs designed for both indoor and outdoor environments provide necessary context and gentle reminders. You can even kindly say, “Thank you for social distancing.”Shopping Cart Disinfecting Station

Re-Assess What You Offer and How You Offer It

While some businesses are able to offer curbside pickup or online shopping, many retailers rely on having their products on display for customers to look at and try out. From clothing stores to furniture stores to makeup and beauty stores, retailers now have to reconsider allowing customers to test shared products.

Beauty testers and fragrance testers are often now completely removed. Free food samples are no longer offered. Some companies are cleaning or sanitizing clothing; others are closing their fitting rooms completely. If something has to be tried on, such as jewelry or eyeglasses, it’s important to separate the item from other products and keep track of what has been touched, and what hasn’t.

Stay Up to Date With The Law

Workplace safety laws and recommendations do vary by jurisdiction, because different states have different reopening requirements. Depending on where you live, social distancing protocols, cleaning, and mask requirements will be implemented in different ways. Determine which orders apply to your retail business so you can provide appropriate safety policies to both your employees and your customers. It’s also highly recommended to stay up to date with the CDC’s and OSHA’s guidelines on minimizing transmission of the virus. 

Prepare For Some Adjustment

After businesses reopen, the retail experience will be different in many ways. Customers will have access to the same products, but they won’t be able to physically shop the way they used to. It’ll take some time for both workers and customers to get accustomed to wearing PPE, cleaning frequently, and keeping their distance. But by creating a safe store environment and showing concern for health and safety, you can ensure your retail business is successful for the long term.

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