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How to Reduce the Cost of Retail Returns

How to Reduce the Cost of Retail Returns

Whether you sell online or in-store, returns are an inevitable cost in the retail industry. And they can be tricky – they can increase rapidly, aggressively cut into profit margins and cause logistics issues. 

According to a recent study, the overall value of returned merchandise in the US during the past year was $309 billion, with online purchases accounting for $41 billion of that total. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the issue of returns even more.

While it is an increasing problem, how retailers deal with returns can help differentiate them from competitors, reduce return costs, and even make them more profitable. 

How has COVID-19 Impacted Retail Returns?

COVID-19 Retail

Studies show that 30% of all products ordered online are returned as compared to 8.89% in brick-and-mortar stores. And as online sales have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, so has the volume of returns – increasing costs and complexity for retailers.

Along with higher return rates, the pandemic has exacerbated certain return challenges and created new ones altogether, for example:

  • Given the challenges associated with returning products to stores, retailers are having to offer extended return windows. 
  • Increased health and safety policies require stores to set aside returned merchandise for 24 hours to reduce COVID-19 transmission. For some retailers, thorough steam cleaning has become a popular sanitation measure. 
  • Retailers must find additional retail space and assign labour costs to their sanitation processes.
  • Retailers face higher consumer expectations when it comes to the efficiency of the return process and free online returns. However, the pandemic has caused reduced staffing across warehouses, delaying return processes for many stores.
  • Understaffed stores must find additional resources to restock returned merchandise back on the sales floor. 
  • The overhead associated with receiving and repacking merchandise for resale along with the disposal of unsaleable merchandise is increasingly cutting into profit margins. 

The good news is that retailers can take a number of steps to both reduce return rates and make the overall process more efficient and less costly.

How to Reduce the Cost of Returns 

1. Clearly communicate your pre-purchase return policy

Retail return policy

Establishing standard operating procedures for handling returns will make the process more efficient and less costly for your business.

A clearly communicated return policy will enable you to treat each return the same so you can avoid treating requests on a case by case basis. Processing every return manually can be expensive and overwhelm your staff, ultimately preventing you from scaling your business. 

While policies are going to vary depending on the industry and the type of retailer, every policy should include certain elements. To find out more about writing a return policy and the basics you should cover, click here

Once you have written up your policy, you need to make sure that customers see it before they buy. This means including links to your policy in hard to miss places on your website or e-commerce site, and near checkout tills in your physical stores. Clearly outlining your return policy will help set the right expectations before purchase, reducing hours spent on customer service.

2. Accurate online product information

Online product page

If you’re selling online, one way to reduce the likelihood of returns is by providing your customers with accurate product information. Depending on the type of merchandise that you sell, this could mean in-depth size guides, diagrams, or photos that clearly showcase the appearance of your products. Doing so will give your customers a better idea of what they are purchasing and they’ll end up more satisfied with their decision. 

Make sure that the information you provide on a certain page pertains to that particular product, category, and brand. For example, you don’t want to provide clothing size guides on a footwear product page. 

If you sell internationally, it’s suggested that you include links to international conversion charts or images of such charts on product pages as well as both metric and imperial measurements.

Retailers with physical stores may also want to provide the same product information in-store, especially if COVID-19 has impacted a customer’s ability to interact with products (e.g. if changing rooms are closed).

3. Customer reviews

Customer reviews

Featuring customer reviews and ratings on your website can play an important role in reducing returns. In fact, online reviews carry a lot of weight during a consumer’s path to purchase. According to Google, 88% of shoppers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Giving shoppers access to helpful, relevant reviews can give them a better understanding of the products they are considering and can help set expectations about functionality, quality, and usability. And by learning about others’ experiences with the product, shoppers can easily discern if it is right for them.

Customer reviews are a way for merchants to have a finger on the pulse of their business as they provide valuable shopper feedback that can be used to proactively reduce returns. For instance, reviews provide important insight about customer preferences (e.g. what type of shopper buys certain products and how they use them) as well as product flaws. Store owners should constantly be analyzing and reading customer feedback to identify ways that they can improve product quality and services.

Some retailers even use reviews to make important purchasing decisions – e.g. the number of inventory items that should be bought, whether or not to continue selling certain products etc. If specific products have an overwhelming amount of negative reviews, it is time to review the products or work with the supplier.

4. Use technology to optimize the handling of returned items

Retail technology

Many traditional retailers aren’t using systems designed to handle online returns which have increased a lot due to the recent boost in online shopping.

For many, the issue is managing returns once they reach a retail store or shipping facility. Most traditional stores are still new to handling online returns which can include everything from where to put inventory back into stock to processing refunds for online sales in-store. And returns can get even more complicated with multi-location retailers selling on different online channels.

For example, processing returns manually will require a lot more staff hours than returns handled by a system that properly restocks returned products based on the order status. This is a flaw with many retail sales systems as the focus is often on selling as many items as possible, and less thought is put into how to handle costly back office processes such as returns which can really cut into profit margins when not managed effectively.

While some systems will utilize 3rd party apps to manage returns, a complete retail platform will include built-in return features such as:

  1. Return Control Settings such as requiring receipts for returns, requiring return reasons that are tracked by users or a separate return screen to minimize the potential for employee theft.
  2. User Access Controls for Returns such as restricting access to return functions.
  3. In-Store Refunds for Online Sales at the physical location where returned products are actually inspected prior to refunds.
  4. Omnichannel Stock Control that puts returned products back into available stock in all online sales channels and at the location where they are returned immediately once the return order is finalized.

5. Direct returns to physical stores

Physical store

Offering customers a buy online return in-store (BORIS) option has become a popular practice amongst many omni-channel retailers. And for good reason; 88% of shoppers want to be able to return a purchase to a physical store or through a prepaid shipping method, according to Retail Dive. Additional research from Optoro shows that 66% of shoppers prefer to bring returns to stores rather than shipping them back

Besides making the process smoother for shoppers, directing returns to physical stores helps retailers save on:

1) The cost of packing materials and staff time to pack orders securely.

2) The shipping fees of returns which are commonly expected by shoppers today with online returns yet doubles the shipping costs for merchants.

3) The cost of damages or lost packages during transit. Even if a merchant has insurance, there are administrative costs to making constant claims.

4) The cost of compensating unhappy customers with additional or future discounts when shipments or refunds are delayed.

5) The higher payment fees charged by processors for online refunds vs. PCI compliant in-person refunds with EMV PIN pads.

But more importantly, returns in-store are more likely to increase the chance of converting a potential refund into an exchange, or even better, a larger sale if the shopper buys more than the original order.

In this way, even though returns can be costly, they can also be a way for a retailer to really differentiate and highlight their customer service. After all, according to Metapack:

92% of customers who receive a good return experience make repeat purchases

So optimizing how you handle returns can be a chance to interact with customers, provide them with a great shopping experience, and capture their loyalty for the long-term.

6. Offer buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS)

Buy Online Pickup In-store

While there have been innovative strides taken in the retail industry to bridge the online and brick & mortar experience, even the best technology cannot replicate the in-store environment where customers can see and interact with products in person.

Oftentimes, returns are a result of customers not liking the product or the product not fitting properly. This can be reduced by providing a way for customers to touch or see the product in person before an order is complete. The ideal way to do this is with BOPIS which is also known as Click & Collect in some industries. For shoppers, it provides a convenient way for them to buy as well as return their purchases.

By offering a Buy Online Pickup In-store option, retailers provide their shoppers the convenience of online shopping with the interactive experience of purchasing in-store. And, of course, during the pandemic, this is a safer way for shoppers to buy yet still check their orders before taking them home.

Since the pandemic started this year, BOPIS orders are 275 percent higher than pre-COVID-19, even after stores reopened from lockdowns. Now that shoppers have been using store pickup for an extended period of time, studies show that consumers are unlikely to stop using BOPIS, even after the pandemic. This means that retailers need to find cost-effective ways to offer the service permanently with an omnichannel store system that can handle both sales and returns effectively based on the way people shop today.

Conclusion

Dealing with product returns is never fun, especially now with the complications brought on by COVID-19. However, when properly dealt with, retailers have the opportunity to minimize and even capitalize on returns. We hope our article outlined some of the ways to do so. 

What are you doing to minimize returns in-store? Let us know in the comment section below.

How to Drive Foot Traffic to your Retail Store Post-COVID-19

How to Drive Foot Traffic to your Retail Store Post-COVID-19

With most businesses back on their feet and not just relying on online sales to keep them afloat, retailers can start thinking of ways to drive foot traffic back to their stores. 

Having said that, traditional methods of driving foot traffic may not be as effective as before. With safety and cleanliness being the main concern of most shoppers, experience-based strategies such as in-store events and classes are no longer practical as they once were pre-pandemic. 

That’s why we’ve put together 5 strategies to help store owners drive foot traffic in a post-COVID-19 retail environment. Check them out below. 

1. Focus on Health & Safety 

retail store mask policy

Shoppers don’t want to feel at risk of contracting COVID-19 when they enter your store. So if you want more customers to shop at your physical store, you need to make them feel like it is safe to do so. 

You can build trust with shoppers by visibly cleaning and sanitizing your shop, providing staff (and if possible customers) with masks, and placing hand sanitizer throughout the store. It is also a good idea to limit the amount of shoppers allowed inside at a given time. Consider placing social distancing markers or decals on the floor. This will help ensure that customers are following social distancing guidelines once they enter your store. 

For more information on how to implement health & safety measures post-COVID-19, download our checklist here. Depending on the demographics (e.g. a lot of your customers are seniors) in your area and the space available in your store for people to socially-distance themselves while shopping, you may want to consider a mandatory mask policy. These can be controversial and must be implemented and managed carefully to minimize potential friction. Learn more about how to manage and implement mask policies in your store.

Don’t forget to take advantage of digital channels (social media, SMS, email) to communicate with shoppers. This way, customers will be aware of the health and safety measures you have in place and will be more comfortable coming to your store. 

Remember –  generating store foot traffic during the pandemic is not just about being the trendiest, cheapest, or most unique brand, it is about appearing safe. 

2. Double-down on Google

retail customer post-COVID-19

Hundreds of millions of shoppers use Google everyday to start their product searches, making it the ideal place to list your merchandise.

While the Google Shopping tab previously consisted of only paid listings, Google recently announced the launch of unpaid, organic Google Shopping listings

Merchants in the U.S. can now access this feature for free while an international rollout is expected by the end of the year. 

TAKU Retail POS has partnered with Google to make it easier for retailers to automatically sync and optimize their product listings. With TAKU, merchants can choose to send their existing POS product information with the built-in feature to unlock the free product listings. Because this is a built-in integration right in the POS, there’s no data entry required. To learn more, click here.

TAKU’s integration with Google also allows you to display your product catalogue online through Google’s “See what’s in store,” a free showcase directly below your Google store listing. SWIS lets you display your store’s stock and products online with real-time stock updates, attracting nearby shoppers to your store.

As the saying goes, showing up is half the battle. Shoppers need to know when your store is actually open. A shopper that shows up to a closed store because the opening hours listed for your business on Google Maps are outdated likely won’t be back. Make sure you have a verified Google My Business (GMB) store listing and keep your store hours up-to-date. If you’re not using GMB yet, do it right away as it’s the best free online marketing tool available to small businesses. For more information, check out our blog post about why retailers need Google My Business.

If you already have a verified GMB account, make sure you have taken advantage of all of the free marketing tools available within GMB by making your listing more searchable, attracting more local shoppers with visual posts that promote in-store offerings (e.g. limited-edition collaborations that are only available in-store) and encouraging customers to review your store to improve your ranking when people search online for your business.

3. Contactless Payments

contactless payments

Contactless payments are not only convenient, they also provide retailers with a safe and secure way to take payments in-store. Throughout the pandemic, contactless transactions have increased and even become a preferred payment method among consumers. Offering contactless payment will help customers feel safer when purchasing as they don’t have to touch high contact surfaces such as PIN pads or checkout counters. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for contactless payment and pickup methods has significantly increased and stores that offer them will be more attractive to customers when they’re choosing where to shop.

One thing to remember though, is that contactless payments may not be EMV and therefore you may be liable for chargebacks. Prior to the pandemic, merchants would generally set their contactless limits at $50 to $100 per card per day but since March, many retailers have opted to increase the limit to make it easier for customers to buy more when they are in-store. But higher tap limits will increase the chance that those merchants will be responsible for higher-value chargebacks. Make sure to check with your merchant processor regarding liability and what you can do to protect yourself if you ever need to appeal a chargeback (e.g. getting signatures, installing CCTV cameras, etc.) if you are considering adding contactless for the first time or increasing your contactless daily limits.

4. Buy Online, Pickup In-store

buy online pickup in-store

For customers that are not comfortable shopping in-store, you can create a contactless retail experience with buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) or pickup at curbside. Shoppers can use your website to browse items, pay online and simply drive to your location when their order is ready for pickup. Once it is safe to offer in-store pickup in a safe, efficient manner, this is always our recommended fulfillment option for retailers that have physical stores. In-store pickups are not only more cost-effective (e.g. no packing or shipping costs), they generally have lower return rates since people can check products prior to pickup and, most importantly, they can lead to higher-margin impulse buys when shoppers see other products they might want to purchase once they are in your store. This is why it is important for retailers to plan carefully where they will place their pickup location in-store. It should be a location that allows shoppers to feel safe (e.g. allows enough space for social distancing) while making it convenient for them to see and pick up additional items quickly.

To make it easier for their staff, retailers should consider enabling staggered pickup times at checkout. This way, long lines and crowds can be avoided as customers must make an appointment to pick up their purchases. All-in-one sales platforms such as TAKU have a built-in function in their online store builder to allow shoppers to choose a pickup date and time at checkout.

5. Exclusive In-store Promotions

Running in-store promotions is a tried and tested way to drive foot traffic. However, retailers need to be strategic about how they run promotions so that they can maximize profitability. Using promotions to generate foot traffic can be done by creating exclusive in-store offers which incentivize customers to come to your store rather than shop online. 

The following are some promotional strategies retailers can use:

Exclusivity with Private In-store Appointments – this strategy works particularly well if you are selling higher-value products that can benefit from having a sales associate involved to answer any questions

Exclusivity with In-Store Promotions – use your email marketing lists and social media posts to promote special offers to your best customers with limited time/quantity in-store only promotions specifically for them

In-Store Bundle Discounts – this strategy is particularly useful when you have excess stock you are looking to get rid of but want to ensure a minimum basket size in-store

Surprise In-Store Markdowns – random markdowns such as “score of the week” are effective in attracting both new and returning customers. These promotions are usually less risky as you know exactly how the discount will affect your margins. A smart POS system can analyze in-store promotions, allowing store owners to see trends and margins. 

Conditional In-Store Offers – examples include spend a certain amount and get a free item, buy a certain item and save a percentage off your entire order etc.


We hope you found this article helpful!

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Post COVID-19 Loss Prevention Tips

Post COVID-19 Loss Prevention Tips

Retail shrinkage continues to be a major issue for retailers everywhere. 

According to the National Retail Federation, losses due to organized retail crime, theft, and vendor fraud, etc. have continued to grow over the past few years. In 2019, shrinkage reached $61.7 billion, up from $50.6 billion in 2018. 

Now the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for retailers when it comes to loss prevention. 

Shrinkage Post-COVID-19

Retail Theft

History has shown that retail theft increases after global events that have major economic impact. Following events such as 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008, there was a notable increase in shoplifting. 

According to Caroline Kochman of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), there was a 16% increase in shoplifter referrals following 9/11 and a 34% increase during the financial crisis. Kochman also noted that in early 2009, 84% of retailers reported seeing an increase in retail theft

Retail experts are predicting that COVID-19 could lead to even greater increases in retail crime as factors such as unemployment, uncertainty, and financial pressure make people more likely to steal and purchase stolen goods. Additionally, thieves are likely to take advantage of masking policies to get away with shoplifting and organized retail crime. 

Let’s take a look at how retail owners can mitigate the risk of increased retail theft post-pandemic. 

Post-COVID-19 loss prevention tips

  1. Limit the number of shoppers in-store
Post-COVID-19 sign

Limiting the amount of shoppers allowed inside at a given time will prevent your retail store from becoming too crowded. Not only is this an important health & safety measure post-COVID-19, it is also critical in deterring retail theft. 

A limited number of shoppers in-store will make it easier for staff to spot any suspicious activity. Remember, alert employees are the best defense against shoplifters. Attentive customer service and eye contact are key. Thieves hate attention and are less likely to act if they are in plain sight of store employees. So, if employees suspect a shopper is likely to commit a crime, teach them to engage the shopper in conversation. 

Since many retailers have had to decrease the number of staff per shift to accommodate social distancing guidelines, limiting shoppers in store will also help to ensure adequate staff oversight. This way, store owners can be confident that there are enough employees keeping an eye on the sales floor. 

  1. Use cameras and mirrors
retail store surveillance

No matter how alert you and your employees are, it’s difficult to constantly monitor what is going on in your store. This is why security cameras, mirrors, and closed-circuit television cameras are great assets. When you are busy assisting shoppers or if you get momentarily distracted, video surveillance ensures that you are still covered in case of a crime or theft. And with retail theft expected to rise and a limited amount of staff allowed per shift post-COVID-19, you may want to consider installing more cameras and mirrors. It can be as simple as wifi cameras with recording functions or advanced AI surveillance software such as NoLeak Defense which uses technology to flag when a person’s body language is suspicious.

For smaller retailers, mirrors are a cost effective way to make a significant impact for both monitoring and deterrence. It’s a good idea to place them in the “blind spots” and corners of your store. This will make it easier for staff to see the whole store and at the same time, can make the perceived size of your store bigger. 

  1. Signage to prevent theft
retail loss prevention sign

Another cost-effective way to minimize opportunities for thieves to steal is the use of signage. Similar to how an at-home security system would deter burglars, anti-theft signs can act as a means to ward off potential retail crime.

Here are a few best practices when it comes to maximizing the impact of loss-prevention signage: 

  • Place signs near your storefront or your front door to make it clear that your retail store is being monitored. This is often the first place that shoppers look and helps to minimize any privacy concerns.
  • Make sure your signage is placed high up where shoplifters would look for cameras/mirrors. 
  • Consider featuring a set of eyes or list the consequences of committing retail crime (fines, jail time etc.) on the signage. Research has shown that this increases the likelihood of compliance. 
  1. Go cashless for security

Unfortunately a significant amount of shrinkage is internal. After all, employees are more likely to understand how your operations work and how products or money can be taken without being noticed. And so, with the increase in shoplifting, experts are also predicting a spike in employee theft post-pandemic.

If you accept cash, you won’t be able to run your retail business without giving employees access to your cash drawer. At the same time, balancing your cash drawer every day is time consuming. In the words of small business expert Michael Philippou, “take away cash and you take away the problem”. If it is necessary for you to accept cash, it’s important for you to use a retail POS system that has proper cash management and “cashout” controls including payment breakdown by tender type, the ability to hide system or +/- figures, etc. These types of functions will make it more difficult for employees to adjust closing figures as only users with the higher access rights would be able to see the comparisons.

To reduce the risk of internal theft, you should consider joining other retailers in going cashless, even if only temporarily. Yes there are costs associated with electronic payments but when you consider the risks in terms of employee theft and the extra administration costs, it is likely more cost-effective for you to go cashless. COVID-19 has only increased the risks and is the key reason why many retailers (and even government support such EBT programs) are increasingly digital these days. And if you are a fast-moving retailer, taking integrated electronic payments with your POS can also help increase your sales as you can significantly increase your checkout speed and accuracy.

  1. Use a unified retail software
retail checkout

Before the pandemic, many merchants looked at “omnichannel,” “harmonized” or “unified” retail as a nice-to-have. Since the pandemic started, retailers are now looking at omnichannel as a must-have. So what do all of these terms actually mean?

While the terms have slight differences, they basically refer to a single system or piece of software that allows you to connect all of your inventory and customer data from all sales channels. So whether you make a sale online or in-store, you can track every order, payment, refund or inventory change in one software. Separate or poorly linked systems make it much harder for store managers to know how much inventory there is. Naturally, this creates opportunities for would-be thieves to more easily steal products – as nobody will notice that system quantities don’t match what’s available until they actually check what’s in stock!

While it’s possible for traditional POS software to offer some of these functions, a cloud-based system will be much better at handling this as the data in a true cloud system is managed in a central database online. This is particularly true if you manage inventory over multiple physical locations within one or many stores. During uncertain times, the flexibility and accessibility of cloud-based systems from anywhere makes it a lot easier for store managers and owners to:

  1. More easily identify and trace suspicious activity all from a single system
  2. Know what total inventory is in-stock vs. available to sell across all of your locations and sales channels.
  3. Have better visibility into all transactions and inventory activity from wherever they are working (e.g. when they are working from home)
  4. Have proper employee controls based on their access rights regardless of what device they are using and wherever they log in (e.g. no more remote access!)
  1. Revise your store layout
social distance markers

There is a lot to consider when it comes to retail design in a post-pandemic environment. Retailers need to re-organize their store layouts to help shoppers and employees feel safe and comfortable. But at the same time, their store design and set up needs to be organized in the best possible way to prevent theft. 

Below are some tips to consider when revising your store layout post-COVID-19:

  • Place shelves and displays 6 ft. apart so employees have maximum visibility. This also helps to ensure compliance with social distancing guidelines.
  • Have elevated sales counters for better staff visibility of the shop floor. 
  • Place small high-touch and high-value items near the checkout counter or in locked displays.
  • Install mirrors and cameras to eliminate blind spots. 
  • Make sure there is adequate lighting in all areas.
  • Avoid large or clustered displays by reducing your selection. Many retailers including mainstream grocery stores are doing this now as fewer SKUs means less re-stocking and better visibility on suspicious behaviour.
  • Keep your store organized; a disorganized store attracts shoplifters and makes it easier for them to operate.
  • Install sensors that notify you when shoppers enter or exit the store. This is particularly important if you are trying to control the number shoppers in your store to maintain social distancing. 
  • Have an employee stationed near the front of the store to greet customers as they enter and exit the store. Make sure that this employee is trained to handle customers with mask-related issues or to explain your store safety policies, etc. Personable, engaged employees help deter would-be thieves who are more likely to target stores where they can enter and leave undetected.
  1. Partner with law enforcement
retail theft prevention

Working closely with law enforcement is a key factor in the fight against organized retail crime and theft. In the U.S., many federal, state, and local governments have established agencies that work with retailers to combat organized retail crime. To find out more about ORC associations in Canada, click here

It’s a good idea to contact your local police station or retail association for advice on how to report organized retail crime, shoplifting, and internal theft in your area. Authorities can redirect you to local community resources and even provide important loss prevention tips.

  1. Prepare your employees
internal retail theft

With post-pandemic employee fraud expected to increase, retailers need to take preventive action. Besides some of the payment and system options mentioned earlier, here a few others steps that retailers can take to protect against internal shrinkage:

  • Send a clear message to all employees that detecting fraud is still a priority and will not slip under the radar. With sales down, layoffs and the addition of preventive health & safety measures, some employees may sense the company’s attention is elsewhere and believe there is an opportunity for theft.
  • Fraud training for senior employees, visible management of anti-fraud efforts, and the promotion of transparency should still be a priority for retail owners and managers.
  • Do random inventory counts. It is not necessary to check the entire store – many stores often do partial counts by section – but make sure that the counts are unscheduled so that employees cannot anticipate them.
  • Increase POS data analysis and auditing frequency to be familiar with employee activity and be alert to possible fraud activity when there are unusual patterns. 
  • Use a modern POS system to make it easier to manage discrepancies in inventory and have a clear overview of your entire business across all locations and sales channels.
  • Ensure your POS system has strong user permissions. These permissions allow store owners and managers to restrict staff members from accessing certain features (such as sales reports and refunds without receipts, etc.).
  • Run background checks when hiring new employees.
  • Ensure employees are well trained to prevent accidental loss. Whether it’s entering inventory incorrectly or entering the wrong discount, accidental losses can add up. A POS system with built-in training tools can help ensure that your employees are well-trained on store policies and procedures.

We hope you found this article useful.

If you are a Toronto retailer, you can also download the following PDF for step-by-step instructions on how to report a retail crime.

reporting retail crime
How to Manage and Implement Mask Policies In-Store

How to Manage and Implement Mask Policies In-Store

Depending on your region or city, governments everywhere have been revising restrictions to help retailers re-open safely. Regardless of the local by-laws, it is important for retailers to be prepared to have and to manage mask policies for physical stores. 

Over the past several weeks, cities and mainstream retailers have started implementing new universal mask policies. In this article, we’ll go over how retail owners should consider mask by-laws in-store, how to implement a mask policy even if it is not mandatory in your region, as well as some best practices on how to manage defiant shoppers.

Managing Mask By-Laws In-Store 

If your store is located in an area where mask by-laws are in place, you’ll want to ensure that you take the necessary steps to implement new procedures pertaining to the by-law: 

  • Print out a copy of the by-law from your municipality’s website and consider having a printed copy of the latest by-law available in the store to show to customers as required. Make sure you have read it carefully and are familiar with the requirements.
  • Develop a store mask policy in accordance with the by-law. Make sure to include necessary exemptions as stated by the government (individuals who are exempt such as those with health conditions or younger children, when masks can be temporarily removed etc.) 
  • Be sure to train employees, particularly those who will be greeting and possibly confronting non-cooperative shoppers.
  • Display all necessary by-law signs (posters, signage on store-front etc.) outside and inside of every entrance to your store.

When Masks are Not Mandatory

Retailers have an obligation to provide a safe environment for both their staff and shoppers. In the absence of government orders, it is up to retailers to then determine how to provide a safe environment. 

While masks are not known to protect the wearer from catching the virus, studies have shown that:

  1. They do provide effective protection in minimizing the spread of the virus if the wearer is unknowingly sick (asymptomatic). Countries that have adopted universal masking policies (e.g. South Korea) have also had the best results in minimizing the spread of the virus.
  2. More importantly, they have a positive psychological impact on shoppers that are scared. While some people do not believe in the effectiveness of masks, there is no doubt that mask policies make worried shoppers more confident to shop in-store.
  3. Similarly, having a mask policy will make it easier for retailers to both hire and retain employees many of whom are worried about being exposed to many shoppers throughout the day.

As the virus continues to spread, many retailers have themselves announced mandates requiring all customers to wear masks in their stores. While some shoppers may find mask policies to be unfavourable, given the legal and ethical obligations of the situation, it would be in every retailer’s best interest to make masks mandatory. This will increasingly be easier to do as the largest retailers including Wal-mart, Best Buy, and Costco have all recently implemented universal mask policies.

Let’s take a look at some of the steps that retailers can take when implementing mandatory masking policies both in the absence of government orders and when government by-laws are in place. 

1. Clearly communicate store mask policy

Given the number of different rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19 safety, it’s important to communicate your policy in a clear and respectable way to shoppers. This means having proper signage at all store entrances as well as inside the store and communicating the new policy via social media and digital channels (e.g. email and store website). It is important to announce your new policy in advance to make sure that shoppers are aware of the change and will be expecting to bring and wear a mask when they come to your store.

Signage should state your policy in an easy to understand manner such as “For the safety of our employees and shoppers, all customers entering store premises are required to wear a mask or face cover inside”. You may want to consider adding a list of exemptions to your signage as well (for ex: those with health conditions, hearing impairments etc.) Proper signage and marketing will make potential and returning customers more comfortable to shop at your store. 

If you live in a region where universal masking policies are in place, you’ll want to ensure that all signage and marketing complies with rules of the by-law.

It is worth noting that some retailers have even taken denying access to all maskless shoppers, regardless of the by-law exemptions. In this example of a Fabricland store in Ottawa, the company policy goes beyond the requirements of local regulations and instead asks that anyone unable to wear a face covering to use their curbside pickup option. While stores are privately run businesses on private property and therefore may set their own store policies, it is important to consider both the potential legal and PR implications depending on how universal your mask policy is.

no mask no service sign

2. Station employees at store entrances

Create the role of  “mask ambassador” and assign certain staff members to take on this role. Each “mask ambassador” should be stationed near an entrance of the store to remind customers of the new masking policies. 

You may want to require these employees to wear specific clothing (e.g. a black t-shirt) to make it easier for shoppers to spot them. It’s important that these employees wear highly visible masks themselves and also receive special training to help make the process smoother for customers. Store owners may also want to consider hiring security staff to enforce mask usage.

station store employees at store entrances

3. Train store employees

Unfortunately there have been cases of angry shoppers using physical threats or even spitting on retail employees because of mask policies. This is why it is so important for staff to be trained on how to deal with different customer interactions including: 

  • Those arriving without a mask 
  • Exemptions pertaining to mask policies or by-laws (people with disabilities, hearing impairments, younger children etc.)  
  • Customers wanting more information about the store policy or by-law
  • Aggressive, angry, or irritable customers 
  • Fines related to by-laws
  • Shoppers asking for hand sanitizer or masks 

In the past few weeks, social media has been full of videos capturing clashes between store employees and customers who refuse to wear masks. However, it’s not a retail employee’s job to manage any escalation with customers by themselves. Businesses have a legal and ethical responsibility to provide a safe working and shopping environment. If customers are abusive in their speech or actions, retailers have a right to refuse them. Click here for more examples of how to deal with customers who refuse to wear masks. 

Retail employee wearing mask

4. Consider giving masks away for free

If it is possible, offer to give or sell an affordable mask to unprepared shoppers to avoid turning away potential customers. Doing so is a great way to make it easy for customers to comply with store policy and/or government by-laws. It also helps showcase your support for your customers, employees, and community.

free masks

5. Provide alternative ways to shop 

If customers have concerns about wearing a mask while shopping, providing them with alternative ways to shop online for delivery or contactless curbside pickup is a great way to continue to provide safety and convenience. Modern retail software platforms such as TAKU retail POS help retailers meet the new expectations of shoppers by allowing them to move their physical store online and sell from anywhere in the store, all in one flexible solution. 

Store Mask Policy

We hope you found this article helpful.

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Preparing Your Retail Store for the Future Post COVID-19

Preparing Your Retail Store for the Future Post COVID-19

As retail businesses slowly begin to re-open, the question everyone is asking is what will be the new normal.  It will be critical to consider not only how the pandemic has affected the habits of shoppers, but also what they will be expecting from retailers when they start returning to the physical store. Several key things to consider are:

1) How much of the current change in consumer habits will be permanent

2) How can small businesses adapt for growth post COVID-19

3) The importance of marketing and engaging with customers online

Change in Shopping Habits

Health & Wellness Products

With the ongoing uncertainty, there are key categories that will remain important for consumers over the next 6-12 months. Health is the new wealth, and there will be increasing demand for products related to personal care, wellness, and nutrition.  After all, “in-homing” may end up being a permanent change for some companies and workplaces. Interior design services and home furnishing businesses have and may continue to experience a growth post COVID-19 as people redesign their living spaces.  Categories such as electronics, home and kitchen appliances, media and gaming, toys, sporting goods, DIY, and crafts are expected to be in demand over the long-term.   

New Behaviours and Shopper Expectations

Retail Storefront COVID-19

Shoppers will not go back to their old ways post COVID-19.  Even when safety is no longer a concern, some of the short-term behaviours adopted may become permanent — 29% of shoppers have stated that they are now making online purchases for items they would have previously only purchased in stores.  On the other hand, shoppers will also crave that face-to-face human interaction they’ve missed after months of social isolation. This means that the focus should still be on creating a great in-store customer experience if you want to maximize the potential of your store.  There will also be new expectations on what a great shopping experience will look like which is why the seamless management of both online and physical shopping is so important during and even after the pandemic. This can be something as simple as being able to handle inventory levels in real-time across all of your sales channels to avoid selling your customers products you don’t have in stock.  

Consumers will also be looking at retailers to provide comfort and a sense of well-being post COVID-19 as the current demand for cleanliness is unlikely to go away any time soon.  Frequent cleaning and investing in equipment such as hand sanitizer posts, plexi-glass screens, and contactless self-checkout options will be necessary as currently over 85% of US consumers prefer to shop in stores with no-touch options. Investing in new processes and training is also critical to ensure employees follow new procedures to make customers feel comfortable as they shop in physical stores. 

Adapting for Long-Term Growth

Social distancing during COVID-19

Many retailers are now focused on trying to apply quick fixes to move online during the pandemic. But this is very different from planning for the “New Normal”, where your business will need the flexibility to serve your customers wherever and however they need to be served.  Businesses will also need to consider the higher delivery and labour costs involved with digital commerce, and try to find new ways to up-sell and improve the size of baskets online or encourage curbside pickup in order to increase profitability.  Modern retail software platforms such as TAKU support retailers with a single view of all the data across all of your sales devices (checkout tills, mPOS), all of your sales channels (in-store, online, social media, marketplaces), and all of your delivery methods (shipping or pickup). Unifying all of your sales, customer and inventory data will be critical to your being able to react quickly to meet the new expectations of the post COVID-19 shopper.  

Importance of Customer Retention 

customer retention during COVID-19

According to a recent report, only 40% of those who used to shop brick & mortar will go back to their normal shopping behaviour when stores re-open.  Considering this, retailers will need to find a way to reconnect with their existing best customers as the shopper journey continues to change. Having access to combined historical customer data across all sales channels is important to help businesses recover post COVID-19, both in-store and online. Not only can it help you offer more personalized marketing to consumers, but knowing who your customer is, and creating a loyal customer database will help provide a direct channel to communicate with core shoppers when you need them most.    

Re-Assess your Business to Remain Relevant and Manage Risk

DIY kit

For some retailers, now is also the time to review your business model, and reinvent. Local distilleries, apparel, and home furnishing stores have all adapted to help produce PPE to support frontline workers, and the general public. Meanwhile traditional wholesalers have started selling direct-to-customer.  Restaurants have begun selling meal-kits, and creating mini storefronts for essential ingredients. More service-oriented businesses such as beauty salons or after school programs are now offering DIY kits or programs that enable consumers to use their products while in-homing. This type of creativity and resilience helps businesses to broaden their offering, and manage their risk in preparation for the potential second wave when flu season is back again. 

As every country is at a different stage of the pandemic cycle, shopper trends will also differ by market. A key opportunity for growth will be to leverage technology that gives you operational flexibility and the ability to sell outside of your current market. With a second wave expected in the fall, and the economic pressures that are already being felt across markets, diversifying and broadening your consumer base online will be essential to managing your business risk locally.

Importance of Marketing

digital marketing during COVID-19

It is critical to continue to connect with your customers and community so they know when and how to support your business, even after your store re-opens. One advantage of marketing during a downturn is that it is now also cheaper for businesses to buy digital advertising. Companies have also rallied together to help small businesses which have struggled to quickly adapt to selling online during this pandemic. Local free marketing platforms such as Support Retail help small businesses by providing consumers with a tool that allows them to easily find local retailers by type, location, or alphabetically. Support Retail also helps provide free social postings for local retailers via its Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.  

Facebook and Instagram have also introduced new features to help local businesses that have limited marketing budgets to set-up a more effective e-commerce strategy.  #supportsmallbusiness hashtag, “support small business” sticker, “business nearby” feature, and business messenger inbox are just some of the tools developed to help users rally around local retailers. These tools enable small businesses to reach their audience online, and also run focused campaigns to local communities at a lower cost.


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Post COVID-19 Reopening and Best Practices Checklist

Post COVID-19 Reopening and Best Practices Checklist

Scroll to the bottom of the page to download PDF versions of the checklists!

After temporary shutdowns, provinces, states, and cities are getting ready to reopen again. Depending on your location and the industry that you’re in, you may or may not be on the path to resuming your operations. Whatever the case may be, there is a lot you can do to prepare your store for re-opening. Reference our checklist below when the time comes to start selling from your store again. 

As the number of new COVID-19 cases slows globally, state and provincial governments have started re-opening the economy in phases. For many places, the first phase involves re-opening stores for pickup only. Depending on where you are located, this can even refer to curbside pickup only if you have an entrance that opens up to the street. In the US, States are managing the reopening of the economy and stores in different ways. Read more about how each of the 50 states are re-opening in the US.

For more information on Canadian workplace safety & guidelines for curbside pickup and re-opening phases during COVID-19, you can visit the different provincial resources below:

Re-opening for Curbside Pickup Only

  • Set up curbside pickup on your e-commerce store. Find out how to easily set up an online store and offer curbside pickup on TAKU eCommerce here. Free access until July 1, 2020.
  • Enable staggered pickup times. Avoid big lineups and crowds by requiring customers to make an appointment to pick up their purchases. E-commerce providers such as TAKU eCommerce allow customers to choose a pickup time and date at checkout. Alternatively, you can use apps such as Eventbrite, Calendly or Acuity Scheduling, many of which are free for a single store account.
  • Install a stand with a transparent physical barrier for protection. Consider installing a stand outside your store with plexiglass to accept payments.
  • Encourage “Contactless” Payments (e.g. tap or Apple Pay) and discourage the use of cash to protect your staff wherever possible. You may even want to increase your “contactless” limit with your merchant processor but remember that you are liable for any potential chargebacks on “contactless” payments.
  • Get creative with window displays and merchandising. Re-do your window displays to show off new or popular merchandise, discounted items, and relevant products (masks, grocery staples, hand sanitizer etc.). 
  • Place signage in the window: Put up signs to let customers know you are open for curbside pickup and/or delivery. You can also use signage to remind customers about social distancing procedures, your updated return/exchange policy, and store cleanliness or sanitation measures. 
  • Offer customers hand sanitizer wherever touch is unavoidable. 
  • Review receipt management procedures to train staff to put receipts directly into shopping bags instead of handing them to customers or, even better, ask if they are ok to receive their receipts by email. Remember that privacy regulations require that you get positive customer consent to save their emails for future use so an email marketing tool to capture consent that will allow customers to unsubscribe themselves. 
  • Encourage social distance outside of the store by increasing the space outside the store where shoppers are waiting to pay. It’s as simple as adding tape on the floor to clearly show where shoppers need to stand. Costco has famously used pallets outside of their stores to enforce social distance requirements in an orderly fashion. Consider assigning an employee to assist customers waiting in line. 
  • Make merchandising improvements at your storefront: Re-do merchandising displays and organize your store to display what you offer right at your storefront.
  • Organize back office tasks: Remember to review your fulfillment processes as your cashiers will need to have easy access to product or curbside orders at the front of the store to minimize their walking around the store. This way, when shoppers arrive to pick up their purchases or buy things, the checkout process will be faster. 
  • Sanitize surfaces: Regularly sanitize high contact surfaces like PIN pads, checkout counters, door knobs, handles etc. Some customers will need to touch your PINpad to pay. Consider wrapping your PINpad with plastic wrap so that you can wipe it down with sanitizer between every customer but still protect the device.
  • Stagger employee shifts. In order to promote social distance, schedule a maximum number of employees per shift (2 or 3 employees per shift etc.) 
  • Implement proper hygiene and social distances practices. Communicate new health and safety procedures to staff. Ensure proper hand washing, sanitizing, and overall cleanliness. Place signs in the store to remind employees to wash their hands, sanitize, and keep at a safe distance from one another. 

Inventory

  • Conduct a physical inventory count to verify inventory amounts. Record losses of inventory that is damaged / expired / spoiled. You’ll want to make sure that the inventory you have counted matches stock levels in your POS or inventory management system.
  • Review your inventory to decide what needs to be discounted and promoted immediately to bring in cash flow and to minimize your most outdated stock.
  • Contact your suppliers and vendors to get an update on order lead times and ensure accurate delivery schedules. You don’t want to sell what you can’t fulfill.

Staff

  • Contact your employees: Confirm readiness to return to work and good health. 
  • Communicate shift schedules with employees once you’ve confirmed who is ready to return to work. 
  • Inform staff of health and safety procedures going forward. Health and safety will be the top priority of both employees and shoppers for now. If it is not possible to always maintain the required distance from customers, you will need to look at both re-designing the layout of your store, the checkout procedures and supply masks, gloves and hand sanitizer where required for everybody’s protection.
  • Implement proper hygiene and social distancing policies: Post signage throughout the store, in break rooms, stock rooms, and the bathroom reminding staff to wash their hands and stay at a safe distance from other team members / customers.
  • Review loss prevention and security policies with employees. Don’t forget to review your POS access rights to make sure the staff permissions are still accurate.

Store Exterior and Interior 

  • Ensure the storefront is clean by washing windows and doors, sweeping the sidewalk, and getting rid of any debris/garbage outside your store. Any areas of high traffic will need to be cleaned repeatedly throughout the day.
  • Place signage in windows and doors: This includes reopening signs, any promotional/sales signage, and health and safety or social distancing policies. 
  • Sanitize doors knobs, handles, countertops, PINpads, etc. Any areas of high touch by employees or customers will need to be sanitized repeatedly throughout the day. Consider wrapping your PINpad with plastic wrap so that you can wipe it down with sanitizer between every customer but still protect the device.
  • Ensure the store interior is clean by sweeping and sanitizing floors, walls, fixtures, surfaces, displays, shelves, and windows. 
  • Verify product tags and pricing and print new tags if necessary. Ensure all products are accurately priced and discounted items are tagged. 
  • Have the store’s new merchandising plan and products tags ready for staff/merchandisers. You’ll want to ensure staff are scheduled to help merchandise the store before you open. 
  • Fill shelves and displays with stock. 
  • Place promotional signage around the store. 
  • Hang health & safety and social distancing policies around the store so that customers will be able to easily read and understand the new procedures. 
  • Re-stock employee equipment: Receipt papers, tags, printer paper, hand sanitizer etc. 
  • Re-stock washroom equipment: Soap, toilet paper, towels, and hand sanitizer

Security, Technology, and Utilities 

  • Ensure that your utilities are working properly: This includes heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC), phone, internet,  electricity, and plumbing etc. If any of your utilities were disconnected while you were closed, it’s a good idea to call the utility companies to make sure they are working before you re-open. 
  • Check all surveillance and security cameras to make sure they are working properly.
  • Ensure alarm systems are working and consider updating alarm codes if needed. 
  • Verify that your POS system, credit card terminals, and scanners are ready to process sales. Before opening, ring in a test sale to make sure your POS is good to go.
  • Make sure that your payment terminal (PINpad) is capable of accepting contactless payments. Know what your contactless limits are and increase them if you are comfortable with the higher risk (contactless “tap” payments are subject to chargebacks).

Post COVID-19 Health and Safety Measures

  • Install plexiglass barriers at checkout counters to protect cashiers who are ringing in sales. Look at merchandising display stores for pre-made versions designed for retail as it may be more costly to install and/or cut your own. The cost of standard plexiglass sheets has gone up significantly. 
  • Promote physical distancing by placing shelves and displays 6 ft. apart and by placing signs around the store. 
  • Purchase non-medical protective equipment (gloves & masks) for employees: You may want to encourage customers to wear masks as well. This is particularly true if you serve a demographic that is considered high risk.
  • Use signage and social media to communicate physical distancing policies: Place signs both inside and outside of your store so customers are aware of the measures you are taking.
  • Review your fitting room policy if you are a clothing or apparel store. Many stores are no longer allowing fittings and instead relying on better descriptions or even fitting technology.
  • Modify your return and exchange policy: You may want to put a hold on return and exchanges for the time being given the hygiene concerns.
  • Limit the amount of customers allowed in-store: To promote physical distancing, have a limit on the amount of shoppers allowed in store at a time. This can be handled manually at the store or by offering online bookings for specific time slots through apps such as Eventbrite or SimplyBook.me for scheduled shopping solutions with personalized check-in.
  • Regularly clean and sanitize all surfaces, especially your PINpads which can be wrapped with plastic wrap so that they can be wiped down with sanitizer between every customer while still protecting the devices.
  • Make hand-sanitizer available to customers.
  • Adjust your store hours: Consider shortening your opening hours to help staff keep up with the extra cleaning required and to give them time to replenish stock.

Marketing

  • Promote on digital channels. Take advantage of digital channels such as social media, email, SMS etc. to let your customers know that your store is re-opening. Mention how your store is implementing health and safety procedures and physical distancing. Shoppers will still be hesitant to leave their homes. Give shoppers peace of mind that your store is safe. 
  • Run promotions. It will take time for things to return to normal. Incentivize shoppers by offering promotional deals or by highlighting relevant products (e.g. face masks). 
  • Update Google My Business. Make sure to update your Google My Business listing and let customers know you are open for curbside pickup or delivery. If you are planning on shortening your store hours, you should also adjust your hours of operation on your listing. 
  • Get added to local directories. Adding your business to local directory listings (Bing, Yahoo etc) will make it easier for shoppers to find you online. Directories like Support Retail were created during the pandemic as a free tool to help connect local businesses to shoppers in the area. 
Retail Reopening Checklist
Reopening for Curbside Pickup Only

We hope you found this article helpful!

For more information on how to take orders online and offer curbside pickup, click here.