How to Safely Reopen Retail Stores During the COVID-19 Pandemic
For most of 2020, small businesses in the US have had a hard time trying to stay afloat amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. To some business owners, it has meant cutting costs to the bone and putting their operations in hibernation, hoping to resume when the crisis subsides. For others, it has meant focusing extensively on online sales and work-from-home strategies, often by starting new digital operations in a big hurry.
All over the US, Retail stores are preparing to get back to business as usual. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the new normal will look very different from what we had in the past. Employees may be ready to work and customers may be looking forward to hitting the malls but taking steps to ensure everyone’s safety and good health is essential to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Making sure to get things right when reopening can make or break an already ailing business. In this article, we’ll guide you in planning a safe reopening after the COVID-19 lockdown.
Safely Welcoming Employees and Customers back to retail stores after COVID-19 lockdown
Some types of retail stores remained open throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Businesses selling essential commodities, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, did not shut down. This allowed customers to purchase items like food, medications, and toiletries during the lockdown.
However, so many other businesses have been eagerly awaiting the day they can resume business and welcome customers back into their stores. Reopening stores will give the economy a much-needed boost, as long as it can be done safely. Irrespective of the size of the store, the priority for all retailers should be the health and safety of the employees and the customers.
Retail businesses should study the specific guidelines issued by the state and local governments in which they operate. They should also consult with their legal counsel about how to safely reopen. Here are some suggestions for retail stores to prepare for reopening over the next several weeks and months:
Examine Local Requirements
As small retail businesses develop a reopening plan, the first step is to find out exactly what local authorities require them to do with respect to safety. In some places, where the infection rate has remained low, there may not be too many strict requirements to follow. In other areas, local officials are advising maximum caution and have issued comprehensive guidelines for businesses to follow.
You can also check the interactive map prepared by the US Chamber of Commerce that should help business owners find out what their municipality requires them to do. The local requirements should serve as a baseline to help business owners plan for reopening. By ensuring that all required steps are part of the plan, you can protect your business from liability upon reopening.
Create a Plan for Reopening
Before opening, retail stores should develop a robust plan for reopening. The following checklist lays down the issues that business owners need to consider:
- Updating policies and procedures
- Creating a return-to-work schedule for employees
- Cleaning and preparing the store to open
- Installing protective shields, signage, and floor markings
- Sourcing additional supplies
You need to have everything planned as per the local requirements before reopening. This will ensure that everything goes in an orderly manner without any mishaps.
Protective Equipment for Employees
You must equip store employees with the right equipment to keep them safe as they return to work. So, procuring an adequate supply of protective equipment and other necessary items is the next step.
Some states are helping small businesses with this process by offering free or subsidized equipment on a need basis. Most such programs require small businesses to sign up online. So, the sooner you do that the better. Even after months into the pandemic, certain kinds of PPE kits are still in short supply.
A few small business cooperatives are helping businesses secure supplies through collective bidding. Securing a private supply of PPE is going to be critical once government programs cease. So we suggest that you get it done now to save plenty of headaches later.
Establish a screening protocol for COVID-19
You should work with HR and legal counsel to create a plan for screening employees for coronavirus. This plan can include regular temperature checks and monitoring their overall health.
If any employees develop COVID-like symptoms, they should be sent home immediately or be isolated from other workers and customers. You must remember that employee health information is subject to federal and state privacy laws.
Offer delivery and curbside pickup
Some of your customers may not feel safe visiting your stores in person. Many retailers provide contactless pickup and deliveries. This requires a limited amount of employees on location to fulfill orders and deliver purchases. This will also help maintain social distancing protocols.
You should also consider allowing customers to place orders online. You can provide them with the option of picking up their items outside or home delivery.
Follow the social distancing and occupancy rules
Now that customers are permitted to go to the stores, it’ll be important to maintain proper social distancing and occupancy levels to help prevent the spread of the virus. Employees should remain at least six feet apart, as much as possible. Break rooms should be rearranged to allow for space between the workers. Install signage across the store to manage the flow of customers in certain smaller, closed-off spaces, and aisles.
You need to figure out how to properly sanitize the store on a regular basis. Also, you need to make sure that its environmental quality is as safe as possible. You should check out the CDC’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, businesses, schools, and homes for implementing. But since we know so little about the coronavirus’s transmission vectors, small businesses shouldn’t stop there.
You should also focus on sanitizing the store’s air conditioning units and find ways to increase outside air circulation as much as possible. This is because some studies suggest that air conditioning (HVAC) play a role in spreading Coronavirus.
Infection Control Measures
It should be mandatory for employees to wash their hands frequently or use sanitizer several times throughout the workday. Some business owners can also provide personal protective equipment (PPE), like face masks or gloves.
Furthermore, retailers should consider going out of their way to stop the spread of the virus. For example, you can remove testers for perfume or other items and closing fitting rooms. Store hours can also be changed to aid in support social distancing efforts and limit the amount of traffic coming in.
You must help employees stay safe by offering coronavirus training programs on all issues. Such training should include information about the following basic things:
- Social distancing guidelines
- How to monitor their health
- The process for reporting COVID-19 symptoms and steps to take if they experience these symptoms
- How to properly wear and dispose of PPE
- Keeping PPE and clothing clean
- The cleaning and sanitization efforts needed to ensure good health and well-being
The most important thing for small retail businesses to do before reopening is to ensure that nothing has been overlooked. From strict cleaning to tailored sales practices, you’ll only have one chance to get things right. And getting it right will go a long way toward persuading wary customers that it’s safe to go shopping again. So you must invest time and effort in preparing for reopening to ensure that everything goes smoothly and safely.