Retail Re-opening

I took a holiday this past week. I left sunny South Florida where they are just about ready to start opening retail and hospitality and went north to St. Augustine where they had already begun to open businesses.

I know! I left one beach for another beach! After being indoors for weeks with only quick runs to Publix, I needed different scenery. The view from my place is nice, I won’t lie. But, I needed to see other views and other palm trees. St. Augustine is a very sleepy little town. The beaches are open and the anticipation of sit down eating in a decent restaurant after 8 weeks of quarantine definitely has its appeal.

Fort Matanzas

First stop, my friends and I set out for supplies at the local Publix. We had our hand sanitizer, wipes and masks ready. When we got there, we saw that we were the only ones that had masks on in the parking lot. In the store the mask wearers were about 10%. The store staff wasn’t actively sanitizing carts. But they were all wearing masks. This is the Covid cultural difference between North Florida and South Florida. South Florida has many more Covid-19 positive tests and a greater mortality percentage than the northern part of the state. As for us- the weary travelers from the south, we did what we were comfortable doing. We were masked as we picked up what we needed and moved on.

Back at the beach house, I can attest to the fact that the beach was bumper-to-bumper traffic and people were everywhere for the entire holiday weekend. Not a Covid care in the world as the partiers did what they do. Shout out to my sister for letting me borrow her place for the week.

Let’s go shopping!

North Florida has quite a lot of choices for outlet shopping and my friends and I did venture out to see what was open. With Memorial Day weekend approaching there was hope of some meaningful retail therapy.

We ventured out on Memorial Day and were a little disappointed that there were not more stores participating in this reopening wave. The places we visited were crammed with masked people and children hoping to stretch out those purchasing muscles but I’m afraid there was not too much to choose from.

As a retail professional I can come to terms with the new normal. Businesses have been decimated and the economy is on its knees right now. But the consumer is reeling. They have been blind sighted. Many are unemployed or underemployed. They are afraid for themselves and their families. And this will be with us for some time.

Who can we trust?

For the consumers, it boils down to trust. Or a lack of trust. Just watching my friends for the past week having the desire to shop and sit down at a restaurant again. They wanted to do what they used to do. But they were wary. Is it safe? Are people practicing social distancing? Did you wash your hands? Who can we trust?

Not just brick and mortar and restaurants. It’s online too. For consumers to spend money in your store you have got to show them you mean business when it comes to protecting them. For a restaurant or a store owner, right now the optics have to be so strong that there could be no mistaking how serious you are at showing your shoppers and diners that you are committed to their safety.

Say what you like about Amazon. Amazon got nailed in the press early on about how they were running their warehouse operations and since then they have stepped up with an Amazon sized Covid- 19 safety investment and a daily blog where they discuss what they are doing to keep their employees and customers safe.

Business should look around and see what the competition is doing and emulate the best features that make sense for them. In the least, make sure you have a page on your website that addresses what you have done to secure the safety of your customers and employees.

You don’t need to be a marketing genius to realize that more than ever, it’s the optics. It’s necessary. If you are not visibly doing something- you are doing nothing.

What’s next?

Each state has or should have a reopening plan and guidelines for hospitality and retail.

In addition, depending on the size of the business your state may require businesses to submit the reopening plan to the state for their approvals.

The larger your business is- the longer this will take. The mass market retailers have merchandising and project management and in some cases legal requirements before they are fully prepared.

Here are a just a few touch points that I thought about as I was walking around the outlet stores.

Think of sanitizing the touch points of a retail store which sells, accessories, candles, jewelry? If your store model uses carts or baskets, do you continue with the convenience and create a plan to keep them sanitized?

Do you hire a greeter/ head counter to control the traffic and keep the capacity of the store to the required percentage? Is this an additional worker or can you afford to add it to the list of tasks your sales floor people are responsible for?

Do you provide access to tester products? Cosmetics? Perfume? Lotion? Well, not anymore. You will need to rewrite that portion of your merchandising plan and perhaps do away with it altogether. Contact the vendors to see what options are available for sample sized sealed samples. Can you afford this going forward? Remember, your maxed at 50% shopper capacity for the near future and shelling out 100% of your monthly recurring expenses.

Hospitality will no doubt be doing away with buffet style service and those restaurant models will somehow reinvent themselves before re-opening. But what about the weekly staff meetings? No more picking up a box of donuts or bagels and a schmear and a nice fruit salad for your employees to nosh on with coffee. That staff meeting just turned into a BYOB.

Payment Methods? Cash is and always has been filthy. Will you still accept cash? Have you checked your pin pad maker for the correct sanitizing methods?

Training for employees needs to cover more than the usual sales floor and POS curriculum. Take the opportunity now to discuss how to treat people and what the policy is for people who don’t social distance or wear a mask if you require them to do so. And how to handle the one-off situations with courtesy and respect.

What are the other process improvements that need to be changed to facilitate a safer experience?

Think about it and don’t forget to wash your hands.

Take care- until next time…


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