Five key considerations for retail businesses re-opening stores
Necessary to tackle the growing spread of Coronavirus, the decision to place various national and regional markets into lockdown has had a profound and crippling economic impact on many retail businesses. Whilst demand has grown for those with strong e-commerce arms, for those reliant on physical instore sales the economic cost of the virus has been universal, if not fatal in some cases.
Accordingly, to ensure the survival of their stores, retail business leaders are now considering how and when to re-open them – which will need to be in a manner which protects customers, workers, their business and national efforts to tackle the virus. Their key considerations are likely to be as follows:
Is it safe to re-open?
The message to date from both governments and health organisations has been a very clear “stay at home”. But as the lockdown measures are reduced, retailers need to ensure they re-open in a timely manner whilst providing a safe working and shopping environment.
In doing so, retailers will be following models adopted by suppliers of essential products. Although it seems no one has quite perfected, how to encourage both shoppers and safe shopping behaviour back into stores. Current UK governmental guidance to the retail sector includes:
- managing entry into and customer numbers in stores;
- using signage asking those with symptoms not to enter; and reminding customers and staff to keep 2 metres apart;
- encouraging staff to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water as often as possible;
- if feasible, use plexiglass barriers at all points of regular interaction;
- remind colleagues daily to only come into work if they are well and no one in their household is self-isolating.
Other protective measures can include hand sanitisation, encouraging contactless payments, and the provision of protective masks, and gloves, as well as guidance to staff.
Asking about health status, and temperature testing –
in order to keep their stores, central offices, production and distribution channels open some retail business leaders may wish to go further. Such measures can range from asking staff to declare if they’ve travelled to high risk areas, feel unwell, live with those suspected of having the virus, or even temperature testing staff and visitors to stores.
Retailers deciding to ask about, collect or record information relating to a visitor’s or staff member’s health should be mindful of additional obligations concerning the protection and lawful collection of sensitive health data here. Such approaches will need to be carefully structured in order to be transparent, fair, proportionate, risk conscious, secure and confidential. In all likelihood this will require updating internal and external company policies, conducting risk assessments, and implementing training/monitoring of new procedures. Retailers will also need to balance the benefits of potential measures against the increased risk of other legal claims including harassment and breach of privacy rights.
Innovation and leveraging online presence –
retailers are operating in highly uncertain times, and it is difficult to predict what trading conditions will look like over the coming months. What is certain is things are not likely to return to normal immediately, and as part of a phased return to normal shoppers may not be physically able to or inclined to travel into physical stores.
Using traditional and online advertising campaigns to engage with, retain and even trade with customers is likely to be essential. To the extent they are not already doing so, more traditional retailers should also consider some of the emerging opportunities to quickly establish or grow fledgling e-commerce or delivery arms.
Managing brand and reputation risk –
a decision to re-open needs to be taken at the right time, as does the level of protective measures implemented and encouragement given to return to stores. Negative attention to under or over reactive measures, and to re-opening too soon are likely to be remembered following the crisis. Opportunities to spread positive messaging, emphasising safe shopping environments, and raising awareness of action taken to support essential workers should also be utilised.
Keeping stores open –
Is likely to involve a culmination of the above. Retailers will not only need to encourage staff and visitors back into stores, but also keep them well by putting in place proportionate protective measures.
Those measures will need to be managed carefully, to avoid off-putting customers, and negative press/social coverage linked to over/under-policing of preventative measures. Leveraging social media and advertising campaigns will likely be essential to driving enough traffic to ensure a successful re-opening, as will boosting e-commerce offerings for those preferring or needing to stay at home. Retailers will also need to monitor their supply chains to maintain adequate stock levels, and to identify whether interactions with those third parties may pose a risk to staff, customers, or supply lines if the appropriate protective measures are not adopted within those third party businesses.
Originally posted in RetailSector here.
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Matthew Gregson is a data protection & privacy associate
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