Things to consider to re-open retail safely post COVID shutdown

If your retail business was lucky enough to survive the pandemic that decimated many industries all around the world, have you thought about buying a lottery ticket?

Whether you’ve weathered the storm through sheer grit, cunning ingenuity or simply a bit of luck, re-opening a retail business – or even an office - post-COVID shutdown is challenging.

There is no script for this. Everyone is making the rules up as they go along, even when we are taking cues from other parts of the world to help guide us.

Nevermind to be or not to be, the new question is: to open or not to open.

So, what should you do before reopening your retail business post lockdown?

Maybe don’t?

Okay, kidding. If you have used this pandemic time to ramp up your ecommerce game, crunch some numbers and run the P&L. Does your profit forecast match the rent you are going to have to pay back if you’ve been given even a partial payment holiday?

If you had an ecommerce shop and an IRL situation set up even before all of this happened – is it time to reevaluate where you invest your resources? You may not need to shut up shop, but rather might want to consider a pivot - scaling down your premises or switching from a traditional flagship to a showroom concept shop with ecomm backend, if you’re an independent brand.

Consider the footfall in your physical stores

When crunching the numbers, be sure to consider the limitations and restrictions that will be in place. How long will customers be willing to wait in line to abide by the limitations of people allowed in a space at any given time?

For many retailers, the pandemic has decimated the chances of a passer-by becoming a potential customer.

Add to that if you have a product that requires touching and fitting – it’s may not be the kind of thing people will be doing as much as before for some time.

Get real

Unless you have invented a money tree during your lockdown, all your forecasts will have to change. If you have investors and partners, be honest with them about this. But most importantly, be honest with yourself about this. You cannot ignore problems into oblivion – if we could, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

Once you have accounted for the additional expenses (don’t forget the hand sanitizer!) that you now have to add to your finances – does the future of your business still look sparkly?

All that glitters is not always gold, so even if it is shining – prepare for worst-case scenario. And yes, as we have learned in 2020, worst-case scenario can be everything from a global shutdown to aliens invading earth or the dinosaurs coming back to life to rule over us.

If the picture isn’t as rosy as you’d like it to be, don’t fret. Consult with your mentors over how you can re-evaluate or reimagine your business and make it adaptable and scalable so that even our dinosaur overlords will want to buy into it. 

Be transparent in your communication

Whether you open your store back up or shift over to being digital-led, be transparent with everyone. If you move wholly online – do not overpromise on delivery times, for example, especially if you expect increases in orders and decreases in internal team support.

If you’re running an ecommerce store, be sure to let your customers know what steps you are taking to protect their safety – from sanitizing your hands ten times while packing orders to ensuring best practices throughout your supply chain.

Ditto for in-store practices. Are you screening your staff when they arrive at work every day? Make sure your customers know that. Honesty can go a long way in building trust during a time where everything still feels pretty flipping uncertain.

Get everyone on the same page

Cliched? Surprisingly not. Just because it gets said all the time doesn’t mean it is something that is put into practice. It slots in with the transparency in communication, but this is particularly critical if you are re-opening physical stores.

Your staff need to know exactly what the safety protocols are. Customers need to know what they can and cannot do. Everyone needs to feel comfortable in their environment and their worries need to be respected and addressed.

As far as possible, prepare customers in advance for what they might experience when visiting your IRL shop. You have been diligently collecting customers’ email details for future communication, right? (Ummmm… no? K, sounds like this should be on the go-forward agenda, step one.)

Contactless and cashless

As far as possible, go cashless and contactless in your physical store. Touchpads can be a hive of filth where bacteria and other germs live their best lives.

And do you even know how many hands those banknotes and coins have passed through before they reached yours?

Switch to alternative payment methods as far as possible. But as mentioned before, make sure that this is communicated to everyone - before they even set foot in your shop.

Hustle

You are the little entrepreneur that could. While retail giants have succumbed, this is actually a time for agile, smart independent brands to thrive. With some of the big guys going bust, there will be a lot of floor space available – and landlords who are anxious to rent it out.

There is no shame in haggling for a better deal if you are looking at moving your premises. If you are in a position to consider scaling up, go big and don’t stay home. Okay – well, like, stay home as much as you can - just not when it comes to your ambition.

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