As big box retailers like Macy’s, Gap, Nordstrom and Target are reopening stores things are looking quite different.
For example, Target stores have barriers upon entry into each store to keep traffic going one way. Stores also have socially distanced checkout lines and signage telling customers the flow of traffic. As most retailers/stores in general begin to reopen after closing down in the past 3-4 months, many are limiting the number of customers in the store at any given time, as well as placing employees at the front of stores to offer hand sanitizer upon entry to the stores, or information for customers to ask in regards to the store operations. Another change to in-store shopping will be limiting fitting rooms/closing a number of them with a limited number still open, allowing for cleaning in between each use. For example, Nordstrom’s business plan on reopening fitting rooms is to socially distance fitting rooms and hold clothing that has been tried on or returned for a period of time before returning it to the sales floor. In the same boat, retailer Free People has closed a number of each store’s fitting rooms with sales reps cleaning and sanitizing each fitting room in between each use. Free People has also added a plexiglass barrier between customers checking out and sales associates for additional protection.
Along with physical changes in stores, retailers are shifting to contactless payment options requiring customers to pay with cards only, no cash. [i] Upon opening, Nordstrom plans on adding drive-thru order pickup and dedicated parking spaces for returns. [i] Along with that, Nordstrom plans on suspending services like alterations, beauty makeovers, personalized fittings, and dining-in services at restaurants throughout the stores.
Retailers like JCPenney have reopened most of their stores back in June, with requirements to wear personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, as well as staggering shift schedules minimizing contact between employees, and contactless payment. [i] Most retailers are following similar guidelines with the safety of customers and staff at the forefront of every decision they are making. Although these changes are affecting the shopping experience of the customer, most customers are more likely to shop in retail stores that are taking very serious precautions when it comes to reopening.
Experts say there are three principles retailers are using to ensure success within their facility. The first of these is “Less Density, Faster Flow”. [ii] This means that to lower the risk of the virus transmission, retailers inevitably must lower the number of people in stores, allowing for an easier flow within each store. The smaller number of people, the more management can control the flow of foot traffic. Management must also be very diligent on managing customer wait time whether that be requesting help on the floor or checking out. The next principle is “Manage Variability”. For example, in order to be as successful as possible, pace of walk and managing lag times in viewing products is essential to keep customers on a nice flow, allowing for as many people in as the space allots. [ii] Many stores have implemented one-way movements within stores, urging customers to walk down aisles in one direction only. This limits the number of close interactions between customers. [ii] Many retailers like grocers have implemented these specific rules and regulations when it comes to shopping in stores, but retailers **shouldn’t be** far behind them. Although this specific tactic is harder to enforce in a retail shopping environment, companies must adapt and find ways to use this method in a way that enhances their store’s customer shopping experience. The third and final principle is “Use Nudges and Encourage Safe Behavior Among Customers and Employees” meaning that employees and customers must be diligent about reading their surroundings and reacting appropriately. [ii] The biggest takeaway from this principle is that communication is key. Without that, chaos is bound to happen. This means communication from the shopper as much as communication from the employees. From my personal experience, I am highly more likely to shop in a store where employees are open and friendly, asking if I need help.
Although these times are scary and unknown, the thing we can control through this pandemic is our communication and willingness to stick together. Although you may be shopping in a store as a customer, 9/10 you have an aspect in your life where you are the one in charge helping other “customers” or clients whether that be in the workplace, in your family, etc. Retailers are adapting just like the rest of us, and it is crucial that business owners stay as knowledgeable on updates from the CDC and the overall US market. Head on over to our blog with industry updates on the grocery sector, retail sector, and much more.