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There’s no denying that we now live in a physically and digitally connected world. The benefits of being globally interconnected are visible in the growth and stability of the world economy over the past decade since the 2008 global financial crisis. But history and economies are cyclical. We were already looking at a potential downturn before the recent coronavirus global pandemic started but retailers are now looking at the most unpredictable global business environment in decades. This is where retail crisis management helps to give businesses options to manage the unknown.
For businesses that were launched in good times, owners will now need to quickly adapt to the challenges of managing uncertainty and risk. Like any other business, owning a retail store comes with its fair share of risks. Even at the best of times, store owners must deal with operational risks that impact cash flow. After all, the US economy was strong for the majority of 2019, yet U.S. retailers still lost 50.6 billion due to inventory shrinkage alone.
With the help of new technology, there are ever more ways to tackle theft and organized retail crime, but they are not the only challenges facing retailers today. Whether it’s a natural disaster in the form of a fire or flood, supply chain disruptions, or an employee ranting about the company on social media, unexpected retail risks can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help minimize the risk of unexpected emergencies, plan for interruptions to your retail business, and do your best to protect your employees, assets, and reputation.
I’m not by any means a risk management expert. I am, however, a repeat small business owner. So I know what it’s like to face the terror of a sudden downturn AND not be prepared to deal with negative cash flow. If any of the tips below help others minimize their stress or better prepare for the next crisis, that’s good enough.
Environmental disasters are external crises that are generally out of the control of any one private business. These include forest fires, hurricanes and, of course, global health pandemics. Because these are environmental and often cannot be predicted, these are often the most costly. They usually impact the economies of entire countries, can cost billions of dollars in damage to affected businesses and homes, and require a long recovery time. Besides the $1 billion in lost sales experienced by retailers during hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, these disasters resulted in $125 billion in property damage.
Business Insurance for Major Disasters
Nobody really likes to purchase business insurance but it’s often critical to the survival of a company in the face of a business-interrupting disaster. Even if you don’t live in an area that is prone to serious storms or other seasonal events, you need to make sure you have enough insurance to cover fire/water damage for your inventory, assets or property. Not only is this type of coverage mandatory on some leaseholds, it’s the only way to protect yourself against legal claims if there is 3rd party damage during an incident, which is also a key part of retail crisis management.
It’s important to remember that environmental disasters can be considered “acts of God” or “force majeure” and can nullify some insurance depending on your carrier and the type of plan you have. While some companies will step up at times of crises, you shouldn’t count on the possibility of coverage in the middle of a disaster if your plan has such exemptions. This is exactly why you should always read your insurance policy to understand what type of financial coverage you are actually buying. If the language in the fine print is too much, write to your insurance broker to make sure they give you a clear written response on what coverage you get with your insurance premiums
Technology, Flexibility and Adaptability
Adaptability for a business today is often tied to flexibility and technology. How flexible your processes are will determine how quickly you can adapt to different market environments. For retailers, this means using technology and tools that will allow you to immediately change how you are selling or taking payment with customers. The latest cloud systems not only automatically back-up your data, they work on any device and allow you to sell wherever your customer is. So when your store suddenly loses power, you can switch from your till to your mobile phone to keep selling.
For retailers dealing with the impact of COVID-19, for example, shutting down may not be an immediate option. Small businesses who cannot afford to shutdown or are looking for better ways to manage the impact are encouraged to:Download our free checklist
Add or Expand Digital Sales Channels including e-commerce for shipment or pick-up in store.
Offer Contactless “Leave At My Door” Delivery with prepaid orders online, by phone, fax or email.
Encourage Visible Hygiene Management in store by having all staff use gloves or wear masks. Have hand sanitizers readily available at the checkout area, near doors with handles, etc.
Encourage Social Distance In Store by increasing the space in the checkout area between cashiers and where shoppers are waiting to pay. Stop offering samples unless they are pre-packaged.
Encourage “Contactless” Payments (e.g. tap or Apple Pay) and discourage the use of cash to protect your staff wherever possible. You may want to increase your “contactless” limit with your merchant processor but remember that you are liable for any potential chargebacks on “contactless” payments.
Minimize Any Processes that Require Touch such as loyalty programs that require a tablet. Print out a QR code or signage for your web site and encourage users to sign up on their own phones.
Sell In Store Gift Cards with an Incentive (e.g. extra $15 for every $100 gift card) to encourage shoppers to come back to the store when things are back to normal.
Offer Free Pens to shoppers who don’t have their own. It’s a cost-effective gift that discourages the use of public pens and helps customers remember you. Remember to minimize touch when offering them.
Communicate Proper Treatment Procedures when staff are sick. Make sure all managers and staff know what to do when they are sick. There is a lot of information out there – be sure to refer to the most credible medical sources in your country. In Canada, that will mean the public health authorities for your province or territory. In the US, the CDC is a reliable authority for guidance. For further details, you can also review the steps to prepare worksplaces for COVID-19 published by the WHO.
Limit Stock Quantities for any essential household and medical products to avoid stock outs.
Not all emergencies are external. There are a number of internal risks within a company, many of which aren’t any less significant to the survival of a business than, for example, a natural disaster. You’ll want to work with workplace safety experts if your workplace involves food, hazardous materials or any type of production but for most of us in retail, cash flow, reputation and operations crises are usually top-of-mind for small business owners.
Cash Flow is the Lifeblood of a Business
I’m not the first business owner to say that timing is everything when running a business. During good times, this can refer to being in the right place when unusual opportunities present themselves. During bad times, this refers to whether you are financially in a position to survive when there is an interruption to the business. And more often than not, retail crisis management refers to your cash flow position because you need to have access to liquidity or credit to be able to get through an unusually slow period – you can’t sell hard assets quickly or for a good price in the middle of a crisis. So yes, while a natural disaster is completely unexpected and is out of anybody’s control, what you can control is the position you are in when disaster strikes.
I’m certainly not trying to preach about the virtues of keeping unused cash in the bank (assuming there is even any) instead of reinvesting in the business, etc. But if you haven’t already, you may want to get approved for a line of credit only for emergencies when the business is booming or you have the opportunity to. The key is to get credit when you don’t need it and to not use these emergency resources for any daily operations. Yes, hindsight is 50-50, and this won’t help you if you’re already dealing with an emergency but history does repeat itself so can better prepare yourself for the future.
Operations Resilience Planning
Operations covers many different parts of a business. It’s not possible to list every area a business owner or manager can review but, by and large, most retailers should always have some sort of plan in place for:
Succession or delegation if management is incapacitated
Data loss or privacy breaches
Supply chain breakdown
1) Management Incapacitation
Nobody ever wants to think about a scenario in which they aren’t around. But the fact is, if you are a small business owner, you are likely an employer and others depend on you for their livelihood. You can plan for every possible risk but if you cannot issue payroll, approve payments or make important decisions when they need to be made, you’re exposing your business to extra risk. Make sure you have a contingency plan in place for your own responsibilities including who is authorized to access company bank accounts during an emergency. Speak to your accountant or lawyer to learn more about the options.
2) Data Loss or Privacy Breaches
Just as many people rely on smartphones to remember all of their contacts, the data you use to run and track your business is irreplaceable. In a retail business, this usually refers to your POS data. Not only is the information stored in your POS system critical to your business decisions (e.g. how much product to order based on sales, etc.), it’s also a legal requirement in most countries to both collect sales taxes and report profitability.
Not only do natural disasters damage physical structures like storefronts and warehouses, they can also lead to a loss of important company files and data. Environmental disasters aside, as a business, you are also exposed to ransomware or database hacks on a daily basis. Luckily data security is definitely something you can more affordably control now in the age of cloud computing. It doesn’t matter what type of technology you use in your business operations. Don’t take a chance with unexpected damages or hardware failure with your business data. Store it in the cloud, or better yet, use a cloud POS system so that you can run your business from anywhere. After all, even if your data is secure, you need access to your POS system and other retail management tools to be able to continue operating.
With GDPR in Europe and ever more privacy regulations everywhere around the world, it’s important for small businesses to start on the process of developing and implementing a privacy strategy to protect their reputation with customers. There’s no point stressing out over the fact that you may have missed certain regulatory deadlines. Regulators and customers everywhere would rather see that a company has a plan and is working on improving rather than giving up or saying “it doesn’t apply to me.” For some basic steps you can take to get started on how to better manage privacy in your small business, you can refer to this blog post.
3) Supply Chain Breakdown
If just one link in a retailer’s supply chain is broken, it can have a significant impact on business operations and profit. Which is why retailers need to be able to react quickly to unexpected supply chain events – whether it is a natural disaster, supplier failure, political or labour strife.
While there is no way to prevent these events from taking place, there are measures you can take internally to minimize the impact of such disruptions and be better prepared including:
Retail Crisis Management is Risk Management
Having total supply chain visibility involves looking at possible environmental, social, and political risks. Identify possible “what-if” scenarios – what happens if a supplier is facing a weather disruption and loses power? Do you have an alternative source? What if there are transportation delays? What if political events drive up prices of raw materials? These “what-if” scenarios are numerous and may seem unlikely to occur in the first place. But it’s important to know what that list looks like first so that you can start to develop contingency plans to have more options when an unexpected crisis does take place.
Look at manufacturing and distribution coverage
Depending on the size of your business, broaden your connections by reaching out to suppliers in different networks and regions. Seeking out alternate suppliers in different locations will help you re-route orders if one of your suppliers is negatively impacted by an external event.
Unexpected issues and events can arise when inventory is being transported to and from distribution centers. For instance, merchandise can be stolen, delays can occur, and weather disruptions can cause damage to roads and transport routes. To prepare for these risks, it’s important to have transport flexibility. In other words, if one avenue of delivery is disrupted, ensure that you have the capability to switch and depend on another logistics channel. If instead, you opt to go for a third-party logistic provider, it’s a good idea to ensure that they can also provide the same kind of flexibility.
Remember that changes in lead times with suppliers during a major disaster will likely change the speed and cost of transport you will need. Do a cost analysis of what your business can afford to spend to get products to you and make sure you have the credit or cash flow necessary to fund the upgrades. During an emergency, you may need to consider foregoing profits or even taking a loss simply to keep enough revenue flowing through the business to cover fixed overhead costs.
Brand reputation and reputation management are critical to a retailer’s success. In fact, a report done by Total Retail shows that 90% of shoppers have chosen not to purchase from a company because of its bad reputation. Which is why consumers are increasingly relying on reviews to determine the quality of a business.
But, certain circumstances can arise that can quickly impact the viability and perception of your brand – e.g. a distraught employee publicly telling off a customer, poor management of health risks, etc. – creating distrust amongst consumers, and so on.
Help your retail business build a reputable brand and better prepare for compromising situations:
1) Be transparent about company policies and preventative procedures
In the case of an external crisis, consumers start distrusting businesses. Under these circumstances, it’s best to get ahead of the situation by reassuring employees, suppliers, partners and shoppers that you are taking preventative action or being as proactive as you can. During the recent coronavirus pandemic, StichFix made sure that members were aware of the rigorous cleaning process their clothing goes through between rentals to minimize any fears customers had about the cleanliness of renting clothes.
2) Manage negative reviews promptly
Gathering customer reviews is one of the best ways to make a good impression on a potential shopper. And even if you receive negative feedback, remember that it’s normal (and more realistic) for companies to receive a few bad reviews, just as long as you respond promptly and clearly show to customers that you are taking action. To learn more about customer review management and how to respond to reviews, click here.
3) Clearly communicate staff expectations
Setting clear company expectations with every new employee will pay off in the future when you’re trying to contain a potential public relations emergency. You may not be comfortable with the unconventional employee handbook Telsa gives its employees but the point is that you can’t expect employees to know what you expect without giving them some guidelines. Depending on the size of your business, it shouldn’t be an extensive document but it’s worth those late nights or legal fees to get one prepared since you will be sharing it repeatedly in your company. And, of course, communication doesn’t stop with orientation or handbooks. Part of retail crisis management is clearly communicating with employees and setting a good example during and after any crisis. There’s no better way for senior management to walk the talk.
We hope you found this article helpful.
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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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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 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 (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.
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.
We hope you found this article helpful!
For more information on how to take orders online and offer curbside pickup, click here.
👇👇👇 Scroll to Download the PDF Version ofour COVID-19 Survival Tips for Retailers!!
For retailers dealing with the impact of COVID-19, shutting down may not be an immediate option, particularly if they are an essential business in their community. Over the past 10 days, we’ve spoken with many small businesses who are looking for ways to better manage the impact. Scroll down for tips on how you can minimize the impact of COVID-19:
Sell Online and Stay in Contact with your Customers
Offer Contact-less Options. It is expected that shopper behaviour will be significantly impacted by COVID-19 at least until there is a vaccine developed next year. This means that shoppers will have health and safety top-of-mind for the foreseeable future. Prepare now to make sure you are prepared before your competitors. Take this time to set up “Leave At My Door” delivery options or “pre-scheduled contactless curbside pickup” with orders placed online, by phone, fax or email. These are great options as you have confirmed pre-paid sales before you pack an order, you minimize staff and customer exposure and you avoid the cost of packaging products for shipment.
Make sure you have a Google My Businessprofile and keep your store hours up-to-date. For a limited time, Google will be showcasing any Posts made on merchant GMB profiles to people searching locally to ensure that local businesses get more coverage in their community. GMB Local Posts are a free (!!) and effective way to stand out in local searches and update shoppers about any new offers, delivery options, etc
Connect with local businesses to pool resources. Large retailers who rely on delivery such as Amazon can’t ship products in a timely manner anymore. There may be an opportunity for your local businesses to step up, particularly if you supply complementary products by offering local delivery together.
Keep an eye out for government Requests for Proposals if you’re in a position to re-tool your business to help address the challenge of COVID-19..
Look for ways to leverage the new “Stay-at-home Economy,” the new market created by demand from family, friends and children in self-isolation as a result of coronavirus. There are reports of sizable increases in at-home related categories including: personal fitness gear, home office equipment, indoor games, home and garden supplies, educational materials and books, hobbies, entertainment-related electronics, direct-to-consumer (DTC) friendly products suitable for mail-order subscriptions such as coffee, etc.
Keep an eye on your POS sales data to see if there are new trends to make sure you are stocking and promoting the products that shoppers want now vs. what they wanted to buy a few months ago.
Take advantage of marketing offers to get free ad credits to reduce the cost of staying in contact with customers. For example, Google has announced $340 million in Google Ads credits available to all SMBs with active accounts over the past year. Credit notifications will appear in your existing Google Ads accounts and can be used at any point until the end of 2020 across Google advertising platforms.
Be flexible and don’t be afraid to take action. A flexible and adaptable mindset is what will get you through this crisis. The situation is changing day-by-day which means you will need to make adjustments in your response. Even if you come up against resistance in the beginning, shoppers will eventually come around because people still need to buy and consume things.
Expect long-term changes in shopper behavior. While some pre-crisis shopper behavior will return, this pandemic will have long-term impact on general shopping behavior. Make sure you’re aware of those changes and adapt your business to match them. My parents are both over the age of 70 and have never ordered anything online in their lives. While they still prefer shopping in stores, needless to say, they are both avid online grocery shoppers now and will likely continue to buy more online in the future as they find it more convenient for re-stocking.
If sell B2B, find a way to pivot to target recession-resistant or essential companies as they will be the most likely to invest in new products or services.
In-Store Management Tips
1) Encourage Visible Hygiene Management in store by having all staff use gloves or wear masks. Have hand sanitizers readily available at the checkout area, near doors with handles, etc. If possible, have staff wipe baskets or trolley handles before passing them to shoppers.
2) Have clear signage to help customers understand the impact of COVID-19 on your store and what to expect for their shopping experience. Download these signs from CFIB to customize for your own business: Temporary Closure Notice, Safety Notice to Visitors
3) Pre-pack bulk goods such as fresh produce wherever possible to minimize touch. Stop offering samples unless they are pre-packaged.
4) Encourage Social Distance In Store by increasing the space in the checkout area between cashiers and where shoppers are waiting to pay. It’s as simple as adding tape on the floor to clearly show where shoppers need to stand as Walmart has done. Costco has famously used pallets to enforce social distance requirements in an orderly fashion.
5) Merchandise for fast retail as most shoppers will be shopping for necessity versus discovery. Keeping in mind the social distance required for safety, you will want to consider moving fast-moving goods in an easier to access location.
6) Put up transparent barriers wherever possible to minimize transmission while protecting staff.
7) 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.
8) If you are an essential business that is still sourcing, pay special attention to your supply chain. Anything sourced from areas dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases will need alternatives in place. If necessary, even look at your suppliers’ suppliers for critical products.
9) Minimize Any Processes that Require Touch such as loyalty programs that require a tablet or credit card terminals that require optional prompts. Print out a QR code or signage for your web site and encourage users to sign up on their own phones.
10) 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 use an integrated email marketing tool to capture consent that will allow customers to unsubscribe themselves.
11) Sell In Store Gift Cards with an Incentive (e.g. extra $15 for every $100 gift card) to encourage shoppers to come back to the store when things are back to normal.
12) Offer Free Pens to shoppers who don’t have their own. It’s a cost-effective gift that discourages the use of public pens and helps customers remember you. Remember to minimize touch when offering them.
13) Communicate Proper Treatment Procedures when staff are sick. Make sure all managers and staff know what to do when they are sick. There is a lot of information out there – be sure to refer to the most credible medical sources in your country. In Canada, that will mean the public health authorities for your province or territory. In the US, the CDC is a reliable authority for guidance. For further details, you can also review the steps to prepare worksplaces for COVID-19 published by the WHO.
14) Minimize the Number of Shoppers In-Store to protect your own employees and make sure that shoppers are both comfortable and safe while in your store.