Many states are now re-opening their economies—challenging retailers and restaurant operators to adapt their locations to meet public safety mandates.
To understand those challenges, I spoke to Windstream Enterprise Retail customers about their plans for their stores. I came away from those conversations with four major learnings and many best practices.
Check your tech before you open
Many retailers that closed during the pandemic used the downtime to update and patch systems and applications. However, some store managers who closed up shop also shut down their POS systems and other technology. To ensure those apps start up again (and function correctly), follow these steps.
- Work with your re-open team to ensure there is enough time prior to opening to shake out any systems and technology issues—electronics can be damaged from continuous cleaning by anti-bacterial wipes.
- Review your head office’s sanitation guidelines—you may need to purchase specialized equipment like UV light devices.
- Establish procedures for disinfecting portable devices, scanners, POS and PIN-pads in the store—along with walkies, phones and other employee productivity tools.
Meet your customers’ expectations for in-store and online services
As many consumers are still hesitant to go into stores, contactless commerce functions—like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, food delivery service, contactless payment and self-checkout—are here to stay. Here are some post-opening strategies to try.
- For high-value products, install parking lot-facing cameras and place security guards outside for the safety of staff and customers.
- Recognize that curbside delivery requires more labor for the same number of store transactions and adjust store staffing models accordingly.
- Encourage contactless payment use by agreeing on policies with your staff. Should check-out associates be evaluated on the percentage of transactions done via Near Field Communications (NFC)? Could customers get a small discount or fund a charity with rounded change if they use NFC?
- If you offer services (like repairs and grooming, for example), investigate scheduling tools to limit in-store customer traffic and better plan staffing.
- Expect that returns will be harder for some items. Pre-virus, one in five clothing items bought online was returned. Now, many stores are limiting the returns they accept due to hygiene concerns.
Distribute your people and assets to protect your business
Centralized fulfillment centers, contact centers and store distribution centers can be slowed down or shuttered if an employee shows up to work with the virus. Lower the risk of a major impact on your operations in the event of illness by maintaining decentralized distribution centers.
If a remote call center agent is sick you’re down one agent, not an entire location. If you fulfill orders from your chain of stores and one city reverts to shutting down non-essential businesses, close a few stores—not an entire fulfillment center.
Foodservice and restaurant outlets can adapt this model by using remote or ghost kitchens that don’t have to seat diners to be profitable.
Avoid social shaming because of poor safety practices
Retailers and restaurants that don’t follow mandated guidelines, or have an outbreak traced back to their location, run the risk of being called out on social media. Follow these steps to protect your customers, employees and brand.
- Ensure your employees understand that safety comes before selling.
- Train employees and managers on new policies, CDC guidelines and handling customer situations that are unique to social distancing. This training must be done frequently and (most likely) remotely.
- Convey all the steps you are taking to follow CDC and local guidelines to your customers, who want to be reassured that you are doing all you can to protect them.
- Use brand-appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) so your business doesn’t look like a hospital.
Now take a deep breath. And thrive on.
Between the rapidly shifting social priorities and the crash in consumer spending during the COVID-19 crisis, most retail and restaurant leaders would agree that their original 2020 technology roadmap has been turned upside down. As you pivot in a post-pandemic world, I hope the ideas I’ve shared will help you open your locations, serve your customers, protect your employees and thrive on.