The Pandemic Is Changing How Retail Should Be ManagedSam Bahreini
The world has changed somewhat drastically in just a few months. More than five million people in the US alone have been infected by the Covid-19 viral infection, with the death toll already surpassing 180,000. Every day, more than 1,000 new deaths are recorded, making this one of the worst pandemics in our modern-day history.
With the pandemic continuing to spread, it’s not only the general population faced with difficulties. Thousands of businesses had to close their doors during this pandemic – with many of these unable to open again. For those who were able to survive the epidemic that we are facing, business won’t be the same in the recent future.
The effects of the pandemic mean you need to rethink how you do business. Expecting things to return to what we consider “normal” soon is unrealistic – and continuing to do business as you did before the pandemic isn’t going to get you anywhere.
In this post, we’re going to look at how the pandemic has affected retail business operations. We’ll also consider how you can come out on top, even though the pandemic is still causing many problems with businesses. This will help you understand the most important changes that need to go into your business operations.
How The Pandemic Has Affected Local Businesses
If your business is still operations or allowed to continue serving customers in a local area, consider yourself at an advantage. According to a recent study, at least 43% of businesses had to close down, at least temporarily, according to lockdown regulations that have been implemented.
A majority of businesses who closed down during the pandemic noted that the decision came due to a concern for the health of their employees. Another common reason noted was a concern for reduced demand in terms of the products or services offered by the retail business.
Those businesses that remained open during the lockdown were still impacted. The average business had to reduce the number of employees at the office by about 39% in January 2020. In some areas, active employee count was reduced by up to 47%.
A significant reduction in employment rates was also noted. The major industries affected by the reduced employment rate included:
- Personal services
- Hospitality services
- Food services
- Entertainment services
- Arts businesses
- Retail businesses
With a reduced employment rate, along with the need to close down temporarily, businesses often found themselves with too little money on hand. When retail services stop, it means all profits the business makes will be halted at the time. Small businesses had only enough cash to last between two weeks and two months on hand. With this in mind, some businesses had to continue paying employees during the lockdown periods.
Small business owners seem to be at the top of the list when looking at companies most affected by Covid-19. At least 66,000 small business owners had to permanently close their business since the start of a stricter lockdown process in the United States alone. Thousands more had already closed down in other regions of the world.
Changes To In-Person Retail Business Operations During The Pandemic
Even though there are many businesses that have closed down during the pandemic the world is facing, not every company has been this unfortunate. With this in mind, we need to look at how there are certain changes that need to be made during this time.
Retail businesses who understand what needs to be changed – and stop thinking that things are just going to go back to how they were anytime soon – are the ones with a better chance of surviving and coming out on top.
The first and one of the most important changes to retail business operations would be related to in-person sales. Covid-19 is a viral infection that is highly contagious. It spreads through droplets – which means human contact needs to be avoided as much as possible.
Researchers have found that some people who are infected with the Covid-19 virus will not experience any obvious symptoms. Others may take up to 14 days before any symptoms start to develop. During this time, the viral infection remains contagious – the person may spread the virus to others without even knowing they have been infected.
This is the primary reason why in-person contact in retail businesses have to change to adapt to the pandemic situation we are faced with.
Implementing Social Distancing Procedures
The first step to take is to implement appropriate strategies that will help to reduce the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus inside your business premises. This is an important step to help with the controlling of Covid-19 infections. Social distancing procedures are also expected from all businesses that are open to the public during this stressful time.
This all starts by implementing a strategy to promote safe distancing between customers who enter your retail store. Here are a few strategies and steps you can take:
- Make sure customers have a guideline that they can use to stand apart from each other. It is advised that social distancing ensures people remain at least six feet from each other in any public situation—set markers on the ground at till points. The markers should be six feet apart from each other. This is an effective strategy to prevent close human contact inside your retail store.
- Put up signs throughout your store, including the entrance area, that notify customers of social distancing regulations. Make sure customers are aware that they should remain at least six feet from each other inside the store. Also, ensure the customer is aware of the marks that are added to the floor at the till points.
- It can be useful to implement strategies where you improve the distancing of products inside your retail store. This will allow customers to continue browsing your store without the need to have close contact with each other. Some retail stores have found it useful to rearrange the items that are sold inside. You could even use a strategy where non-common items are stored away – this creates more space to provide better distancing of the essential products that customers are looking to buy.
These are the basic rules that you should follow to create a social distancing protocol inside your retail store.
It’s advised to limit the number of people who are able to be inside your retail store at any given time too. When a store gets overcrowded, implementing a social distancing regulation will become more difficult. Space is limited when there are too many people, which means it can be difficult for customers to ensure they remain six feet away from each other.
When limiting the number of individuals inside your store at a time, take both customers and employees into consideration.
First, consider how many people you want to allow inside your retail store at a time. To make an appropriate decision, you need to take the size of your store into consideration. Allowing 50 people into a small store can be a disaster. At the same time, limiting the presence of people to only 10 in a very large building will be inappropriate – people will turn away from your store and visit a competitor.
Keeping employees working at a specific time-limited is helpful in this case. You might want to implement shifts for your employees. This provides everyone an opportunity to work and earn wages, but without having too many employees at the retail store.
Taking Care Of Employee Health And Safety
While considering social distancing to provide a safer environment for your customers, never overlook the importance of keeping employees safe too. Your employees are critical to the success of your business, so taking care of them will help your business continue running normally. It will also show your employees appreciation – and essentially help to create better morale among them. In turn, employees remain motivated and positive, even as the world is facing a time of the pandemic.
There are a few ways that you can improve safety and reduce the risk of infection among your employees. Implementing multiple strategies would, of course, be preferred – this creates a more significant level of safety in the working environment.
Here are a few tips to help improve the safety of your employees:
- First of all, make sure your employees are all thoroughly educated on social distancing and other safety procedures surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Give your employees appropriate access to education that will help them. The educational materials should be available freely to all employees.
- Social distancing is not only something that your customers should practice. Be strict about social distancing rules among your employees too. They should practice social distancing with other employees. When serving customers, the employee should ensure they stand at least six feet from the customer when providing assistance.
- Make sure you are able to provide your employees with all essential safety equipment and items that are needed to minimize the risk of spreading Covid-19 viral infections within the store. Every employee should be offered a mask if they do not have their own. Make sure the masks you provide your employees are effective at protecting against droplets that may cause the spreading of the infection. Many people find that visors are also highly effective at blocking droplets.
- You may also consider offering your employees protective gloves. This can help to prevent them from getting droplets that are infected with the Covid-19 virus on their hands. If the patient gets these droplets on their hands and touch their mouth, nose, or eyes, they may be infected. Disposable gloves can help to provide an additional layer of security for the employees in your retail store.
- Get a temperature measurement device that is dedicated to your employees—Check-in with employees every day to see how they are feeling. Make sure you take measurements of the employee’s temperature – and note this down on a sheet. This will help you to keep track of employees who may be at a greater risk. If the employee doesn’t feel well, show signs of Covid-19, or has a high temperature, it might be a good idea to refer them to a doctor.
- Make sure employees understand the symptoms that the Covid-19 viral infection causes. This gives you an opportunity to ensure employees who might be infected remain at home – reducing the risk of spreading the virus among employees in the workplace.
Apart from these, ensure employees know that they are free to talk to you about any concerns they have related to the Covid-19 virus. Also, tell employees that they can provide any suggestions if they feel like they have an idea to increase the safety of both the employee and the customer in the shop.
Creating New In-Person Retail Experiences For Customers
Customer safety is important too. In this dire time, simply allowing every customer to enter your store is not a good idea. This increases the risk of contamination inside your retail store – and when such an event occurs, your business may need to close down once again.
There are a few strategies that you need to use in order to create a safer environment for all customers. We have already considered the implementation of a social distancing program inside your store. Additional techniques are essential to further enhance safety and reduce the spreading of this pandemic virus.
A few tips to help create an even safer shopping experience for every customer:
- When customers are expected to stand in a line in front of your shop, ensure you also implement appropriate social distancing measures outside. Have a trained employee remain at the door of your store. The employee should regulate who enters your store closely. They also need to ensure customers remain six feet apart from each other when lining outside your doors.
- The employee regulating entry into your store need to have a few precautionary measures they take before allowing a customer to enter. This starts by looking for a mask. The customer needs to wear a mask before they’re allowed to enter your store. It is generally advised that a material mask is worn. A thicker mask helps to provide superior protection. If the customer does not have a mask on, they should not be allowed inside.
- Customer temperature should be measured before they enter your store. Make sure you use a non-contact temperature measurement device. If the customer has a high temperature, they should be referred to a doctor and advised that they are not allowed to enter your store. A fever is generally considered one of the initial symptoms associated with the Covid-19 infection. While a fever does not guarantee a customer is infected, the risk is too high when facing a pandemic.
- Another important tip is to have an effective hand sanitization agent at the entrance of your shop. Ideally, you want customers to all to be required to use the hand sanitizer product before they enter. It is advised that a hand sanitizer contains at least 70% alcohol. This is an effective level to help kill bacteria and viruses, including the virus that causes the Covid-19 infection, before the customer enters your store. Even if the customer does not have Covid-19, there is always a risk that they have recently come into contact with droplets with the virus.
How Digital Business Solutions Can Help Your Business Survive
In-person business operations still remain important to local companies, even as we are facing a pandemic. Many customers have a demand for finding a product locally without waiting for delivery. At the same time, there are also many people who prefer to remain home during lockdown periods and while there is a risk of a Covid-19 infection. These individuals are turning toward digital services to help them continue to gain access to services and products they need – without leaving home.
During this pandemic, many companies have taken advantage of the fact that people are turning their search for products and services to the internet. While the retail business has suffered, eCommerce solutions have started to thrive in this period of time.
In Q2 2019, Amazon’s eCommerce sales brought the company an estimated $63.4 billion in revenue. This year, during the pandemic period, Q2 yielded a profit of $88.9 – more than what was estimated. This means there was a 40% growth in the revenue yielded by Amazon’s online eCommerce platform. Smaller eCommerce solutions can also take advantage of this opportunity.
By increasing your investment and efforts on selling products and services online, you can still continue to thrive even though the business world is faced with a difficult time.
Setting up a digital platform that allows customers to buy from your retail store has become significantly easier in recent times. You do not even need coding skills anymore – many content management systems and eCommerce solutions one “one-click installs” exist today. This means no need to code or develop anything.
A platform like WordPress is now very easy to install. After installation, simply choose a theme, add plugins, and you are ready to get your store up and running.
Here’s a quick overview of a simple step-by-step solution that can be used to get your business online:
- Start by choosing a domain name that will represent your business. The domain name should be short and to the point but still, be relevant to your business. It is generally ideal for getting a domain name that fits your business name. This helps with branding.
- Sign up for hosting. If you are new to all of this, look for a company that offers WordPress hosting. The provider will install WordPress for you – after setup is complete, you can instantly start to customize your website.
- Install a plugin like WooCommerce to help you set up an eCommerce system on your website. Connect appropriate payment gateways, such as PayPal. This ensures customers are able to pay you for products and services.
- Add shipping plugins if you sell physical products. This helps you add shipping fees to the customer’s order, while also making the process of printing labels much easier.
- Choose a great theme that is relevant to the type of store you want to set up. Add your company’s branding, including a logo, then update the colors and designs of the theme to match your corporate identity.
This is only an example of setting up an eCommerce store, of course. You can use other systems, such as Joomla and Drupal, or a dedicated eCommerce platform like Prestashop. Alternatively, you can hire a developer and graphic designer if you wish to deploy a more customized solution with custom scripting.
When you set up an eCommerce website, make sure you follow a few important guidelines to make the experience more efficient for your customers:
- Optimize the layout so that it is easy for the customer to find what they are looking for. Consider adding a search function with efficient AI technology. This makes it easier for customers to enter a keyword and be presented with the products or services they need.
- Your website should load perfectly on all devices. Whether the customer opens the website on a desktop computer, an iPad, or a smartphone – it should fit on their device and still be easy to use.
- Provide multiple payment and shipping options for your customers. This allows them to choose the most convenient options for them. It also increases the chances of getting more sales.
What You Should Be Avoiding During This Global Pandemic
While it is important to implement a few strategies to improve in-person and digital shopping experiences among your customers, it is also crucial to consider critical mistakes that need to be avoided. By making even the smallest mistakes, you could end up putting your customers and your employees at risk.
Here are a few things you want to avoid when setting up strategies to counter the dreaded effects that the Covid-19 pandemic can have on your business:
- Avoid letting people into your store when they are not wearing a mask. There have been several reported cases where people are not wearing masks. This greatly increases the risk of exposing more people in your shop to the Covid-19 virus – you do not want to be a contributor to the pandemic we are facing.
- Avoid using an ineffective hand sanitizer product. Make sure the product has a minimum of 70% alcohol. If you use a concentrated sanitization product, closely follow the instructions when mixing it.
- Avoid pushing prices in your store up just so you can break even during the pandemic. While your business might have suffered during the pandemic, remember that many have lost their jobs or have reduced income. With this in mind, taking advantage of the situation to increase your profits is unethical and will not go unnoticed by your customers.
- Avoid creating a website with poor navigation. This is a very common reason for people to leave your site. Make sure the website is well-designed and features a user-friendly interface. Avoid publishing the website before testing – you need to solve any errors before driving traffic.
- Avoid long lines in front of your store. You need to limit entry into your store, but at the same time, you should also make sure the line in front does not get too long.
- Avoid failing to test your temperature measurement devices on a frequent basis. It has been found that certain devices are not always accurate. If this happens, a customer with a high temperature may be scanned as having a normal temperature. This can increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission in your store.
Additional Strategies To Be Successful When The World Is Facing A Pandemic
We’ve looked at some strategies that you can use to keep your business running strong during the pandemic that is affecting the world. We also consider how setting up an online store can help and look at some critical mistakes you need to be avoiding.
These are, of course, not the only factors that can be used to be more successful while the Covid-19 pandemic is still in play. Additional strategies can also be used to help your business thrive and recover from damage suffered during the last few months.
Preferring Contactless Transactions
The traditional ways of paying for goods and services now pose a risk to both the customer and the employee. Money and cards can be contaminated with droplets that contain traces of the virus. This can cause the virus to spread from one to the other.
Creating success during the pandemic means keeping the spreading of Covid-19 to a limit – both customers and employees should feel safe when they enter your shop.
Try to make the process of interaction between employees and customers as contactless as possible. Consider implementing wireless or contactless payment solutions in your store.
Many card issuers now provide customers with cards that come with a “tap and scan” function. Make sure your payment terminals offer full support for these cards. You can also choose to use payment gateways like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, MasterPass, and similar services. These allow the customer to add their card to an app on their smartphone. Depending on the app, the customer will scan a QR code or simply hold their mobile phone over the terminal at your store.
Creating Faster Service Delivery
The delivery of services and products to your customers needs to happen faster than ever before. You need to limit the number of people in your store to avoid overcrowding – which causes a higher risk of transmission. To avoid queuing, you will need to find a way to help customers faster.
The installation of an additional point might help in some situations. This ensures more customers can be helped at the same time.
If you are offering local delivery services to your customers, make sure you have an efficient system developed. The system should ensure orders are processed quickly – aim for same-day delivery, which will definitely help you become more competitive in the area. If customers are out of the area, offer them access to express shipping options. See which courier companies are able to provide the fastest shipping at a reasonable price.
Since customers often fear visiting local stores, they want the assurance that the process of shopping will not be delayed by days or weeks when they shop online.
Focusing On Self-Service Platforms
Self-service is another focus point for many businesses. The usefulness of this particular strategy depends on the type of business you offer your clients. If there are certain features that can be automated through a self-service platform, then this can be a highly effective strategy to implement during the pandemic.
What The Future Holds After The Pandemic
We are still at the center of the Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of people expect the world to return to normal. Unfortunately, this does not seem like something that is going to happen anytime soon.
At the moment, we cannot say how long we will still be faced with a pandemic. While there are scientists and medical experts working on vaccines for the Covid-19 virus, it is still at an early progression stage. Even when a vaccine is introduced, it can take some time to distribute the vaccine throughout the world. Before an effective vaccine is made readily available to the population, it is difficult to say when things will be normal again – or if things are going to be normal again.
This is why taking action now and implementing strategies to help your business survive the pandemic, and afterward, is so important.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected businesses all over the globe. Many business owners are expecting things to return to a more normalized state soon, but this is not the case. We are faced with a serious situation. If you are a business owner, rethinking your retail strategies is now more critical than ever before. We looked at a few important changes you should consider making if you want your business to survive during the pandemic.