8 Steps to Reopen Stores Successfully

Retailers around the world are preparing to reopen stores. Whether you are still in the preparation phase or your stay-at-home orders have expired, here are 8 steps to take to successfully reopen stores.

1. Assess Physical Stores

Make sure your stores are physically sound and safe for reopening. If they have been shuttered for some time, you need to do a through walk-through and check for vandalism and any facility issues (broken pipes, outlets not working, burnt out bulbs, ect.)

Inspect your equipment including security systems, inventory management, POS, etc. and make sure they are in operating condition. Confirm utilities are working, including the phone and internet. Ensure heat, air conditioning, music, and lighting are working.

Don’t forget to test and update the maintenance of your large equipment. Large equipment like forklifts, ovens, or automotive lifts may have been sitting unused for weeks. Don’t open your doors until you are sure all equipment is in good working order.

It is a good idea to assign tasks or request an inspection as you reboot equipment. Attach best practice photos and recommendations to remind your teams about proper maintenance protocols.

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2. Complete a cash flow and profit and loss forecast

We know you are excited to get your doors open, and welcome back your employees and customers. However, the industry will not be returning to the pre-coronavirus “business as usual” anytime soon. This is why one of the first steps is to take a look at your finances and operating budget.

Can you reopen your stores the way they were before COVID-19? Is there an opportunity to expand your operations? Or do you need to think about scaling back?

Countries are expected to reopen in phases. Phase one often consists of contactless pick-up and in-home delivery. Further along, phase three still includes occupancy restrictions. With restrictions in place, think about how you can still connect with your customers.

The good news is that consumers are more accustomed to contactless pick-up and delivery than ever before. First, make sure your online order process is easy to use. Second, have clear directives in place for pick-up at your stores. The goal is to make the process as frictionless as possible. A frictionless experience will encourage customers to return (and maybe even choose you over the competition).

3. Establish protection policies

Regularly check in with local authorities concerning reopening timelines and recommended protocols for social distancing, occupancy, and personal protection equipment (PPE). Depending on your business, you may not be able to open without PPE in place.

The CDC provides both a reopening decision tool and reopening guidance for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces.

CDC reopening america cleaning disinfection decision tool
Image credit: http://www.cdc.gov

Beyond disinfecting and PPE protocols, you may need to think about redesigning your store space. As Fast Company details, “This includes installing plexiglass “sneeze guards” at checkout counters and laying floor decals.” Additionally, consider creating wider aisles or other ways to revamp your layout to follow social distancing recommendations.

Policies will continue to change as industries progress through reopening phases. Here is a case study to help you think about ways to implement policy changes across your locations: How to Communicate Policy Changes to Employees

You have likely already updated your employee sick leave and illness policies. Make sure these updates are communicated. Like McDonalds, Starbucks, and grocery retailers, you may want to institute an employee wellness checklist to ensure employees are symptom free and ready to work.

Unless you do it on time, in full, at every site, you are not executing at all

4. Connect with your Team

As the National Retail Federation observes, “The heart of returning to work is the workforce.” Connect with your team as soon as you can to see who is able to return to work and when. NRF recommends preparing a communication plan for calling employees back to work. Remember to review local laws concerning recall and worker retention rights.

You may need to consider allowing extra time and scheduling shifts dedicated to employee training. Ensure all employees know how to comply with policies and protocols intended to keep themselves and customers protected.

According to NRF, this training can include:

  • How to monitor personal health and recognize symptoms
  • Cleaning and chemical handling protocols
  • Maintaining social distancing guidelines
  • How to properly wear and dispose of PPE

For more see NRF’s Operation Open Doors Checklist. They created a 15 point list to help you plan for and support employees returning to work.

5. Consider your Inventory

Conduct an inventory count so you know exactly what you have on-hand and what you need to acquire. But, evaluating your inventory is about more than taking stock of your current offerings. It is important to consider how consumer shopping habits and priorities are changing in response to COVID-19.

Keep the following consumer trends in mind as you decide what new lines to bring in and which old products to phase out.

Consumers are Focused on the Basics

McKinsey & Company surveyed consumers in 40 countries and found that overall both consumer income and confidence has dropped. However, spending remains positive for basics like groceries, personal-care items, and household supplies. Consumers are also more open to trying new brands as their usual brands may be unavailable.

The survey found that countries further along the opening curve, like China, are seeing spending increase outside the basic categories listed above. Now, Chinese consumers are spending on pet-care services, skincare and makeup, childcare, and fitness and wellness. Keep this in mind as you evaluate your current lines and bring in new offerings.

Holidays are Important

Another point to keep in mind is how your newly reopened stores can capitalize on the spring and early summer holidays. On the May 4th edition, NRF’s “Retail Gets Real” podcast observes that consumers are eager to embrace opportunities to celebrate. NRF notes, “A majority of consumers say celebrating their moms on Mother’s Day is even more important this year.” Consumers under the age of 25 are planning to spend up to $40 more this year over last year for their mothers.

Consider your offerings and how you can connect with your customer base for upcoming holidays. For example, though their storefronts are closed, Toronto based pastry shop Roselle hosts regular pop-ups (as seen below) with different items available each day. Customers can order online and have contactless pick-up at their store fronts.

Roselle Pop-up
Image credit: https://www.roselleto.com

Consumers are Looking for Joy

Forty-five percent of consumers are focused on the “basics” and “essentials.” But as Katherine Cullen, NRF’s Sr. Director of Consumer Insights, observes, “Staying at home has given rise to new needs.” She continues, “Consumers are looking to take some joy where they can, and that means treating themselves to something new.” Categories like books, media, electronics, crafting/hobby, and alcohol purchases are trending up in sales.

Review Your Supply Chain

As you plan your inventory, remember to review your supply chain. States and countries are opening on different timelines. Some material may be in short supply now or in 6 months from now. Continue to monitor the state of stay-at-home orders and your supply chain as you plan your summer an Q4 offerings.

6. Plan your Marketing Strategy

If you have not been in-touch with your customers, it is time to reconnect. Even if reopening is still weeks away, you need to get back on the radar of your customer base.

For instance, even though theaters are closed, Cineplex is reaching out to their Scene members with movie rental promotions for new releases (as seen below).

Cineplex email

To complete the experience and remind customers what they love (and miss) about going to the movies, Cineplex also offers home delivery for snacks. They are encouraging customers to use their streaming service by offering 50% off for movie rentals (as seen below) with every food order. To make the experience seamless, links to delivery apps are included on the page.

Cineplix delivery

Retail expert Francesca Nicasio recommends utilizing “multiple communication channels, including email, SMS, and social media.” Keep in mind the consumer trends above as you craft your promotions and outreach messages.

Evaluate your Pricing

As you evaluate your promotional offerings, you also need to evaluate your pricing. Undertake a break-even analysis to determine if your prices can give you the profit you want to achieve. Remember to take stock of your competitors pricing to ensure you are in-line with expectations.

Consider partnerships

Everyone is looking to cut costs. It’s a good idea to consider how you can partner with other local retailers as you promote store reopenings. Identify those who have a similar target audience or complementary products to discuss cross-promotional opportunities.

7. Evaluate your Operating Procedures

Do you have inefficient process bogging down your operations? It may not seem like to time to adopting new technology to streamline your processes, but streamlining is about more than facilitating faster operations. It is also about enabling flexibility, collaboration, reducing error, providing employees and customers with a more positive experience, and of course, cutting costs. All of this can make you even more resilient when the next crisis hits.

Look at your fulfillment, distribution, inventory management, POS, store inspection, and task management systems. Take advantage of vendor free trials to test drive new technologies to help you reopen.

Finding site issues is good. Fixing them is better.

8. Contact your Customers

Inform your customers as soon as you can about your reopening timeline. This includes reopening restrictions like being limited to curbside pickup, reduced store hours, and reduced capacity.

Additionally, let customers about the protections you are implementing to keep them safe. A recent survey found that only 1/3 of shoppers would feel safe entering department stores and shopping malls. It is important you share your protocols so customers feel confident about returning to your stores. Take a cue from Target who keeps a header at the top of their homepage and has a dedicated response hub.

Target response hub
Image credit: https://corporate.target.com/about/purpose-history/our-commitments/target-coronavirus-hub

Communication should continue when customers enter your stores. This includes posted signage and safety guidelines.

Final thoughts

Nearly 630,000 retail locations closed in response to the coronavirus. “Openings have never been done at the speed or scale about to be attempted,” Fast Company observes. By following guidelines, reopenings can be done successfully while preventing a resurgence of COVID-19.

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