The reopening of brick and mortar businesses post COVID-19 has begun. Retail after COVID-19 will be markedly different from what customers might expect with many having to follow enforced COVID-19 safety practices for retail stores everywhere. This includes book stores, electronics retailers, fashion retailers and all manner of businesses both large and small who have been allowed to open their doors again provided they follow the brick and mortar stores reopening guidelines after COVID-19 set out in May.

Retailers will need to take specific steps to protect both customers and staff, including limiting the number of customers inside at one time, placing protective coverings on large items which shoppers may touch, and frequently checking and cleaning objects and surfaces to prevent further spread of the virus. With these restrictions, many businesses face the very real challenge of remaining profitable to stay afloat. Retailers rely on high footfall and conversion rates, which will be difficult to achieve with social distancing measures and other mandated guidelines.

With this in mind, here is everything you’ll need to know about the reopening of brick and mortar businesses post COVID-19.

The Need For New Practices

One of the key aspects of these new practices is that shops are expected to have carried out a risk assessment that has been overseen by local authority staff as well as the health and safety executive. Employees need to be informed of the assessment’s findings and companies with over 50 employees on staff will be expected to publish the results on their website.

Shops need to develop hygiene procedures and follow them diligently. This can include new practices such as requiring regular hand-washing and surface cleaning on a consistent basis throughout the day to limit the potential spread of the virus. Retailers will also now be expected to limit how many customers are allowed inside a brick-and-mortar location at any one time alongside frequently cleaning and checking objects that may receive physical contact.

They are also advised to place protective coverings on large items as they might be touched by passing shoppers and companies can now face fixed penalties, prohibition notices and potentially unlimited fines if they fail to actively protect customers and staff while these rules are enforced. 

The Government Rules and Regulations

For fashion stores in particular, new rules and regulations are a key part of the reopening of physical locations. Fitting rooms should be closed when possible due to the challenges in operating them safely with the risk of transmission increased in these areas. When they need to be open, contact between customers and staff should be limited and need frequent cleaning, ideally after each customer use. Clothes that have been tried on should also be managed carefully to avoid them coming back into regular circulation without being disinfected.

In terms of broader changes, store layouts may need to be altered, in some cases having customers follow a specific route through the store. This is to limit the amount customers handling merchandise in a short time frame, which can include alternate methods of displaying products or regularly replacing frequently touched stock to avoid a potential spread and improve the overall in-store customer experience.

Recently, business secretary Alok Sharma has stated ‘Shops, department stores and shopping centres that have been closed since March will be able to reopen, provided they put in place the necessary steps to keep their workers and customers safe. This is the latest step in the careful restarting of the economy and will enable high streets up and down the country to spring back to life.’

How Shop Owners Can Take Care of Their Employees and Customers

Where possible, shop owners need to maintain a 2m distance between people with highly visible signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance. Avoiding shared workstations is another key method as is using floor tape or paint to represent a 2m distance, arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible, and switching to seeing visitors by appointment only if possible all ways to protect employees and customers.

You should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by encouraging people to follow the government guidance, provide hand sanitiser at locations throughout the workplace, and frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly is also a must.

Where it’s not possible for 2m distancing, employers need to do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by considering whether an activity needs to continue for a business to operate. This may include new practices such as reducing these activities to a minimum and using screens or barriers to separate people from each other. 

Getting Your Inventory Ready

Creating procedures to manage clothes that have been tried on, for example delaying their return to the shop floor by 72 hours, has now been put in place but businesses need to be incredibly aware of their inventory management systems in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Storing items that have been returned, donated, brought in for repair or extensively handled needs to be treated incredibly carefully before displaying them on a shop floor. Customer handling of merchandise should be kept to a minimum, with different display methods needed and new signage or rotation of high-touch stock also required.

Ways to alleviate these problems include curbside pick-up collections, contactless delivery and specific dropping-off collection and returns points where possible. Companies are also encouraged to overhaul their current pick-up and drop-off collection points by introducing spaces where social distancing measures are possible. Electronically processing deliveries with a pre-booking system can also help reduce contact at security points as well as options for customers to click and collect or select contactless delivery.

Final Thoughts

While it is an understandably difficult time for retailers, it is not a futile situation. To achieve levels of customer service and personal experience that consumers have become accustomed to, retailers will have to accept the current government regulations, however they are not limited to this and can still get creative with their methods of marketing. Experiential shopping strategies should be implemented to encourage interactions and engagement while a focus on eCommerce is still needed despite the reopening brick and mortar businesses post COVID-19. For the companies that rely heavily on regular footfall, social distancing will become one of the new normal procedures you will need to follow, but these measures are in fact likely to encourage customer confidence as opposed to hinder it.



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