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Retailers Adapting Creatively as They Re-Open

June 30, 2020

New York State is finally ready to reopen retail outlets.  This is perfect timing for my 10-year anniversary. After three months of distance learning with my third grader, kindergartener, and eight-month-old, and panic of not leaving the house to avoid potential infection, I need get something meaningful for my wife.    I have surfed the internet, but nothing beats seeing the item first-hand.  I am curious as to what the new normal will be.  People will be back to work soon, but what will this mean for businesses and consumers?

A great way for consumers and businesses to stay informed is by visiting the New York State website for reopening (https://forward.ny.gov). It has the requirements by industry that need to be followed by Responsible Parties, which are defined as the owner/operator of the business with office-based functions, or another party, as may be designated by the owner/operator. The guidelines, which are fairly vague, are broken out into three categories: A) People; B) Places: C) Processes. Businesses are carefully reviewing the requirements and working together to exceed bare minimums.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are getting creative and showing their passion for their business, and their employees and customers that their health and well-being is a top concern. Owners understand that this re-opening will be a team effort between businesses, employees and consumers.

I spoke with a COO at a high-end jewelry retailer with multiple locations throughout Long Island and one location in Manhattan. His approach is that health and safety and are the top priority no matter the cost.  His thought process was these additional costs were not expenses, rather investments in the communities in which the stores are located. “Companies must take on the social responsibility to take all precautions necessary for the safety of the employees and consumers and avoid a second potential closure. Retail companies that managed to survive the first closure may not survive a second.”

The first task companies have is to focus on the people going in and out of the retail space.   A main concern for reopening New York was retailers maintaining social distancing. Per the New York State website, stores are required to limit capacity to 50%, which includes consumers and employees.  Stores have been enforcing this by keeping an employee at the door and doing head counts as people enter and exit.

I wonder if store owners have thought about making it fashionable to wait outside like at an NYC nightclub and get some red velvet ropes out front?

Stores have started to put down signs on their floors directing traffic as well as encouraging people keep a six-foot distance.  There should also be markers on the floor near cash registers allowing space between customers.

The high-end jewelry retail COO noted that there will be someone at the front door to greet people and open the door to help customers avoid touching the door handle.

Other retailers are following similar ideas by locking the front door and displaying large signs asking people to call the store to have someone open the door for them. Stores that previously had five to six employees have moved to three, and managed the flow of customers at the front door due to reduce volume.

The second task a company has is ensuring customer and employee safety while in the store.  Limiting the number of people in the store is a start, but there need to be other precautions in place.  All employees and customers are required to wear a mask while shopping/working in the store.

For example, the jewelry retailer provided me with a video they are emailing to their customers of what to expect.  After entering the store, customers will be welcomed by the store manager at a check-in table with complementary masks and gloves.  There will be touch-free temperature checks during this check-in process. Customers are also encouraged to use a hands-free hand sanitizing station before meeting with a sales associate and to use it when leaving the store.

Many companies have spent money on quality portable glass barriers to adjust to regulations and at the same time maintain visual appeal.

The third area that needs to be covered is process.  How is the company going to maintain a “sanitary” environment?

I spoke with a Director of Finance at a quality eyewear retailer – frames that used to be on shelves to freely try on will now be in glass enclosures.  Customers will have to ask to try on pairs of glasses.  The frames are dipped in Barbacide antiseptic solution after a customer tries them on, then wiped clean.

Talk about an entrepreneur thinking outside the box when antibacterial products are hard to come by!  Salons and barber shops have been closed during this pandemic and have not been placing orders, leaving Barbicide with inventory.  Companies have started using new vendors as their current vendors were running low to empty on products.

There will also need to be more full store cleanings and certain specialty stores are having people set up schedules with 15-20 minute gaps between appointments to sanitize the area with antiseptic wipes and sprays.

It has been quite the experience learning about what I can expect when shopping in the coming weeks.  I am more comfortable after doing my research and am ready to go out and show my appreciation of dealing with me for 10 years.  The reopening will be a team effort from businesses, employees and consumers, with no cost spared to help communities stay safe and healthy.




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