Every so often, retailers are affected by things out of their control such as recession, inflation, seasonal natural disasters and pandemics (just to name a few). One of our customers had a huge setback when a large truck crashed into their storefront because of black ice. Bottom line is, you always have to be ready for surprises. Without the right precautions in place, this could put a huge strain on your businesses and could lead to closure. In an uncertain world, we want to make sure you have the right tools to manage your store so we have put together a few tips below to help you stay resilient through any unforeseeable events.
Conduct a physical inventory count to verify inventory amounts. Record any losses of inventory that are damaged, or expired, or 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what needs to be discounted and promoted immediately to bring in cash flow and to minimize the losses from your most outdated stock.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.
Use new hiring tactics. Write engaging job descriptions, promise of more hours, and offer a rewards-based incentive program so that your staff can stay invested with the success of your store.
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.
Retail Store Exterior and Interior
Regularly make sure that the storefront is clean by washing windows and doors, and cleaning high-traffic areas thoroughly.
Have the store’s new merchandising plan and products tags ready for staff. Ensure that all of your staff are informed of any new changes and are scheduled to help display stock before you open.
Place promotional signage around the store.
Retail Operations Management
Organize back office tasks: Review your fulfillment processes as cashiers need to have easy access to product or curbside orders at the front of the store to minimize their walking around the store.
Review receipt management procedures and train staff to put receipts directly into shopping bags instead of handing them to customers or ask customers if they want an email receipt instead. 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.
Enable staggered pickup times. Requiring customers to make an appointment to pick up their purchases to avoid huge lineups outside of your store. 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.
Security, Technology, and Utilities
Ensure that your utilities are working properly:This includesheating, 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 retail POS system, credit card terminals, and scannersare 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 (PIN pad) 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).
Health and Safety Measures
Appoint a health & safety representative in your team. It is important to implement rules and regulations that comply with local laws and to ensure that employees and customers feel comfortable and safe in your retail store.
Make hand-sanitizer available to customers.
Adjust your store hours:Shorten your opening hours to help staff keep up with the extra cleaning required and to give them adequate time to replenish stock.
Let people know that you take orders online – TAKU helps retailers showcase their products 24/7 online and accepts payments easily and quickly (read more here). Fulfill orders in-store and allow customers to schedule a pickup time so that customers can pop in to pick up their items without the stress of long wait times or lineups.
Update Google My Business. Update your Google My Business listing and let customers know you are open for curbside pickup or delivery. Remember to adjust your hours of operation on your listing if you decide to shorten your store hours!
Get added to local directories. Add your business to local directory listings (Bing, Yahoo etc.) to make it easier for shoppers to find you online. Support Retail is one of our favorite directories and was created during the COVID-19 pandemic as a free tool to help connect local businesses to shoppers in the area. Being featured on local directories with links to your website improves SEO which also means that you are able to have your website appear ahead of your competitors on search engines such as Google.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to add a few relevant tips for retailers that have reopened or planning to reopen soon. We understand that it might be a little overwhelming, but completing this list can help your employees and staff feel safer, and create more trust.
🚨 COVID-19 Retail Best Practices
Purchase protective equipment for employees (ex. face masks & gloves) especially if you serve a high-risk population. Sanitize doors knobs, handles, countertops, PIN pads, etc. Any areas of high touch by employees or customers will need to be sanitized repeatedly throughout the day. Consider wrapping your PIN pad with plastic wrap so that you can wipe it down with sanitizer between every customer but still protect the device. Review your fitting room policy if you are a clothing or apparel store. Many stores will no longer allowing fittings and instead relying on better descriptions or even fitting technology. Encourage “Contactless” Payments (e.g. tap or Apple Pay) and discourage the use of cash to protect your staff and customers wherever possible. Increase your “contactless” limit with your merchant processor but remember that you are liable for any potential chargebacks on “contactless” payments. Implement proper hygiene and social distances practices. Communicate 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. Hang health & safety signage around the store so that customers can easily read and understand procedures. 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.
Want to learn more about how to be seen as the top result on Google (or other search engines)?
After over a year of lockdowns and re-openings, retailers are finally able to open up their doors to the public again. Now, more than ever, retailers need to take more initiative in their local SEO efforts to ensure that they are visible to online shoppers.
But what is local SEO and how does it help my retail business?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” This refers to marketing that helps increase the quantity and quality of visitors online that find you through organic search engine results. “Organic search engine results” is just a fancy way of saying “the top results that show up without paid advertising” in a search engine when somebody searches using certain words. Here’s an example in what an “organic result” looks like in the Google search engine, but it is similar in Bing or Yahoo.
Local SEO is just a more localized version of this – it’s the way that local businesses can show up higher in organic search engine results. An example could be a customer looking for a bag of Acana dog food in their area. When they type “Acana dog food near me,” Google matches the search to local listings in their area.
How to improve where you show up in “search results“
Have you ever thought of how results pop up on your ‘results’ pages? SEO plays a big role in that. One of the main things that affect how websites are displayed on search engines is the number of and quality of keywords in the website.
What is a keyword?
Keywords are either statements, questions, or words that people put into the search bar in a search engine. Finding the right keywords for your website and other online store listings is important because it can affect how and where you show up in search engine results.
Retailers looking to improve their local SEO should do some keyword research and take proactive efforts to make sure that their website and other listings consistently include the most popular keywords. Over time, this will help their stores rank better in local search engine results. The best way to continuously include popular keywords is to create new and relevant content such as new blog posts or website pages. At the same time, it’s important to always have some evergreen content (content that will remain relevant for the foreseeable future and can be re-shared and repurposed), suitable for the industry (e.g. petstores).
What are examples of evergreen content?
Blog posts or pages featuring clients, products or services offered, as well as their long-term benefits. The goal is to create content that presents the business as an expert within an industry in order to build trust with customers.
Why you need a mobile-friendly website
Another SEO-friendly move includes improving mobile responsiveness on your store website. “Mobile responsiveness” refers to how well your retail website looks on all different screen sizes, especially mobile smartphones. In 2020, just under half of the world’s population owned a smartphone with 63,000 Google searches performed per second. When a website cannot change to fit different screen sizes for different devices automatically, new visitors will leave the website faster as it’s not a good customer experience.
It’s already harder in mobile as statistics have shown that capturing peoples’ attention on smartphones is more difficult (a difference of 28% as compared to Desktops) due to the smaller amount of space from which you can “sell” your business. But when you add this to the fact that people are also increasingly relying on their smartphones as their main source of information and that “search” online today usually starts from a smartphone, mobile responsiveness is key to being found online today.
Targeting new keywords
Another way to increase traffic to your website is to rank for new keywords (click here to jog your memory on keywords) that target challenges or new needs of your customers. In order to know how to show up for specific terms, retail business owners need to do keyword research. One good resource is Neil Patel: his website offers free resources to check what keywords you are ranking for and how to optimize your website so that you show up in more related searches.
Optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) profile
Over 80% of customers go online to find more information about a store or product before ever setting foot in a store. People are getting increasingly more tech savvy, which means that retailers need to adapt to new ways of shopping. Google My Business (GMB) is one of the first stops that new customers usually make to find out details such as opening hours or reviews that past customers have left. It is important to update GMB because:
It’s a free tool that can automatically bring more exposure to your business
It helps customers learn more about your business through features such as Posts, online bookings, photo galleries and store reviews.
It helps customers find you in Google Maps.
⭐ What is SWIS (See What’s In Store)?
See What’s In Store (SWIS) helps retailers showcase their product to shoppers in their area. When shoppers search for products (such as “Acana pet food near me”) in Google, they will see a list of nearby locations that carry those products. If those stores have SWIS activated, Google will show a free product showcase highlighting exactly what products are available in store. Because this feature is most effective when the product availability is accurate, a SWIS product showcase is best when it is managed by a store POS directly linked to Google. The added benefit of SWIS is that it turns product names into keywords which helps retailers show up higher in search results.
Read more about how TAKU has helped retailers globally increase their sales?
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
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
Hundreds of millions of shoppers use Google everyday to start their product searches, making it the ideal place to list your merchandise.
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.
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
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.
Want more retail tips? Find out more about retail merchandising below
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.
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.
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
Limit the number of shoppers in-store
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.
Use cameras and mirrors
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.
Signage to prevent theft
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.
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.
Use a unified retail software
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:
More easily identify and trace suspicious activity all from a single system
Know what total inventory is in-stock vs. available to sell across all of your locations and sales channels.
Have better visibility into all transactions and inventory activity from wherever they are working (e.g. when they are working from home)
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!)
Revise your store layout
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.
Partner with law enforcement
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.
Prepare your employees
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Re-Assess your Business to Remain Relevant and Manage Risk
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
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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