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Managing a Business

How to Safely Reopen Your Business

As businesses are beginning to reopen, consumers expect better health and safety practices while shopping. Disinfectants at entrances and limited guest capacity have become common as business owners seek to re-open under the terms that define our new version of normal. 

Business owners expect everyone who comes through their doors to respect the rules. To reopen safely, they need to communicate new in-store policies designed to protect everyone’s health and safety and ensure compliance. 

This post is about how to swiftly adopt the right measures to encourage customers to return to your store and communicate your efforts to keep them safe. For businesses with staff, we’ll discuss how to alleviate their fears of returning to work — including the probability of some awkward customers along the way. 

mobile phone with Apple pay

Evolving with Shoppers Expectations

As lockdowns slowly begin to lift, consumers are wary of going straight back to how things were. They’re actively looking for a business that upholds the latest safety measures when deciding where to shop including:

  • altered store layouts to encourage social distancing 
  • mobile-based self-checkout systems
  • contactless payments at the point of sale

And many say these new spending and shopping habits will last long after the crisis lifts. As such, these measures may become standard practice and worth adopting now to future proof your business and remain competitive. 

Let’s take a look at how you can implement these in your store.

floor markers to help traffic flow inside a store

Rethinking the In-Store Shopping Experience

How can you adapt your business to reassure your visitors they can safely use your store? The first step is to prepare your store. Then we’ll focus on how to communicate that you’ve done it.

Stay current and transparent

As conditions can change by the day, your customers are looking for real-time updates on your business — especially for information on your opening times, peak times, and product availability. 

For most people, casual browsing is not in the cards right now. Customers leave the house with a clear idea of what they need to accomplish when they visit retailers and service providers. 

According to Google for Retail searches for “in stock” have grown globally by over 70% from the week of March 28 to April 4.8. Customers are looking for answers about stock availability to determine if they should make a journey and which store to visit. It’s easy to get frustrated, to travel to a store to find the item they want isn’t available. Don’t waste your customers time, instead provide timely and accurate information on stock. 

It’s now possible to promote your in-store inventory, online, with Google’s Local Inventory Ads. With this tool, local shoppers can check whether your store has the items they’re looking for when they search on Google. You’ll need a Point of Sale or POS system to submit transaction data to Google on your behalf. 

One more straightforward solution is to make it easy for consumers to message your store. Through live messaging, you can answer questions about opening hours or stock. If your website runs on WordPress, you add a Free Live chat plugin. Customers can also get in touch with you in real-time from your Business Profile on Google. 

Even with the knowledge that stock is available, people will still be wary of how busy your store is, and whether there are special opening hours for at-risk customers. This is why it’s vital to keep your website up-to-date to reopen successfully. If you can provide an overview of how things look in real-time, like showing your busy and less busy hours, you’ll take the edge over your competitors. The app BestTime embeds live data on how busy your venue is.

“Look, don’t touch”

Customers are changing how they think about touching things, from tabletop counters to products and handing over their bank cards. As your visitors return, they may be wary of holding a shopping basket, pushing a shopping cart, or punching the buttons on a credit-card reader — all typical features of an instore visit in normal times. 

To alleviate customer’s concerns, make hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes available at your store entrance. The Consumer Pulse survey from market research firm GfK found that forty-nine percent of respondents expect in-store options for disinfecting baskets and/or their hands. From here on out, enhanced cleaning protocols are the name of the game. It’s time to invest in enough of the right cleaning chemicals to clean hands, wipe surfaces and frequently sanitize products. 

You can go one step further and add QR code scannable labels to popular products. This way, consumers can find out additional information about a product they are interested in, without having to interact face-to-face with a retail assistant or touch the product. Many products now include a scannable QR code on product packaging. You can generate your own QR code and add detailed information to a linked landing page.

Accept payments from a distance

To keep pace with demand, retailers are investing in contactless solutions such as self-service kiosks and wireless payment terminals and receipt printers. Depending on the nature of your business, plexiglass can provide an effective barrier between your employees and your customers. It can be useful for payment areas, and any other customer /staff facing locations such as customer counters or at a nail bar station. 

Consider flexible delivery options

According to Google’s guide for retails “Searches for “curbside pickup” and “home delivery” have grown by 70% and over 100%, respectively, over the week ending March 28.”  

Ultimately, customers are taking measures to reduce their time spent in brick-and-mortar stores. Businesses interested in offering flexible delivery need to invest in the right POS technology that allows for seamless delivery and curbside pickup applications. 

Don’t forget to let people know if your store offers “curbside pickup” or “store pickup.” You can quickly add these attributes to your Google My Business attributes. To provide more detailed information, redirect customers to a landing page (more on this later) to explain in-full. the measures you have adopted. 

Manage your store traffic

While social distancing measures are in place, retailers have to restrict the number of customers in their stores at any one time. Adopting any of the following methods will help manage staff and customer anxiety. 

Installing floor stickers is a great way to mark correct spacing. You may also need a member of staff to control the flow at the door. If that’s not possible, try limiting entry with another visual cue. For example, you can mandate that customers can only enter when a shopping cart or basket becomes free, and limit the number in circulation. 

As we’ve all seen, reopening under these conditions can lead to long queues and is a source of anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience for shoppers. There are many ways to avoid a build-up:

  • Ask customers to wait in their cars or outside the facility until they receive a text inviting them in. 
  • Use a queue management app like Qdini
  • Many businesses are now seeing customers only by appointment (no walk-ins). To offer in-store appointments, WordPress users can simply add a free appointment booking plugin. Alternatively, tools like Reopen let people book time slots on their phones. Either way, your booked-in, reassured customer feels safe. What’s more, you can easily keep track of the number of customers on-site. 

Any of these solutions gives people the freedom to do something else other than stand in a queue, which could be much appreciated, especially in a busy built-up area. You could also think about making the checkout process less ‘painful.’ For example, mobile payment software can transform tablets and smartphones to take payments anywhere in-store. 

business mobile site with operating hours

Communicate Your Safety Measures

As you prepare to reopen, continue to be transparent and communicate with your employees and customers. 

Reassure your Customers 

You’ve most likely been engaging with your customers throughout lockdown through email, social media, or any other channel. Once your store reopens, it’s time to ramp up communications to give people a daily sense of how you are handling things. 

Pre-visit communication

Clear customer communication is essential as you prepare to open your door to the public once again. Showcase your new health and safety measures on your website, social media, and via email. Communicate any changes to your ‘normal’ policies before they arrive and encourage customer compliance through any channels available to you. These might include:

  • Social media updates – Post on your social channels about your efforts to protect customers and staff. For example, if you’re closing early for a deep clean, let people know. Regardless of which business you’re in, you want people to see that you’re actively following best practices. 
  • A separate COVID-19 response page –  Create a landing page to reassure your customers about the steps you have in place to deal with the outbreak. While this might sound redundant, the general public this affirmation.  You can easily set up a landing page to keep updated with new information for customers and showcase your empathy toward their concerns. Amazon is a great example. Their dedicated safety-section lists the steps they are taking to address their customer’s concerns. WordPress users can follow suit and add a similar page using a landing page plugin, and double down by adding a COVID update tab to their homepage with the COVID-19 Update Plugin. Marketing services like Mailchimp also provide landing page tools.  
  • In-store communication – It’s unlikely that everyone that comes through your doors has checked out your new safety protocols before they arrive. Many people simply aren’t online. To be on the safe side, add visible signage outside and through your premises. 

Visual cues are the most efficient way to accomplish social distancing. Many businesses are using floor stickers to direct the flow of traffic, where and how to safely queue to pay and to keep a distance from staff members helping them. 

Prepare your staff

Naturally, if you have staff, they are going to have concerns regarding facing the public once again. Safety, crowd control, awkward customers, how do they prepare? Take measures to educate employees on your safety protocols before they return to work, identify at-risk individuals, and provide additional resources to make the return-to-work experience safe and orderly.

Hands sanitizers, masks, and other personal industry-relevant safety items should be readily available for your staff. Further, reduce the risk of your staff member’s exposure, encourage carpooling, or organize transportation, such as a shuttle bus if your business is local.

Addressing Tricky Customer-compliance

You will have some customers that aren’t fully-onboard with your safety endeavors. While staying empathetic to each customer’s experience, remind them that these new ’rules’ are in place for everyone’s safety. It might be worth suggesting an alternative to entering your premises, such as purchasing from your online shop or opting for the curbside pickup.

If you have staff, they should not only understand your new protocols but be comfortable enforcing them, while minimizing negative experiences for other customers. You could even role-play ahead for potential tricky scenarios, and develop scripts. This is what businesses need to get used to now. A new normal where just opening your doors each day feels like an endeavor of military-style planning and strategy to face our unique circumstances. 

Provide Safety, Convenience and a Sense of Community

For many small businesses, the key to longevity will involve finding a balance between safe social distancing and operating efficiently and profitably.  

As we have seen, paying for technology can maximize the experience in-store and create the safest workplace possible, for every tech solution here is a lo-fi alternative to keep costs down. 

The most important safety updates can be implemented swiftly and at a low cost. For example, staff-first practices like deploying face masks, in-store updates such as floor stickers guiding customers and ensuring the correct levels of distancing, and ramping up your cleaning protocols. 

While the future remains unclear, there’s no question that businesses need to take steps to maintain a safer environment for both customers and staff alike. 

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Isobel Weston

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