With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, we know that you’re worried. There are certainly reasons to be concerned (read: but don’t panic), and it’s smart to take the necessary steps to protect your health as well as support your employees and customers during COVID-19.
To that end, one of the most important things you should be doing is manage the growing health and safety concerns that people have about retail. It’s critical that you ensure that your stores — and everyone in them — are safe and healthy. Communicating updates around these issues is also an important step when it comes to staying on top of the public’s concerns.
Here are some tips and pointers on how you can do just that.
Double down on all health and safety measures
Properly managing health and safety concerns starts with actually doing something about them. If your store or facility is still open, make sure you’re taking all the necessary steps and precautions around cleanliness and sanitation.
Some of the areas you need to pay attention to are:
Your policies –
You may need to establish additional policies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These may include policies around working from home, sick leave, hand-washing, and sanitation, etc.
It’s important to clearly communicate policy changes. Put systems in place to get the word out and ensure policies are upheld in store.
Your employees –
You should take additional steps and precautions, such as making scheduling changes for additional disinfecting procedures and limiting product handling by your staff. Also, be sure to double-check that your employees’ emergency contact info is up to date. Last, ensure all employees have access to handwashing stations or hand sanitizer and keep supplies stocked.
To keep up with new sanitizing procedures, it is helpful to designate one point person per shift to keep supplies stocked and be responsible for posting updates.
Your facilities –
Have more sanitation and protective supplies on hand. You should also be frequently cleaning high-touch areas such as counters, door handles, and popular product displays. Here is a sample Health and Safety Checklist to get you started.
Your customers –
Try to limit close contact with customers. Limit the number of customers in your store. Regularly use the PA system to remind customers of purchasing limits and to give each other space.
If possible, implement self-checkout and provide self-sanitizing options if available. Add markings on the floor indicating where people should stand when waiting in line (like this example from Walmart). You want these to be at least 6 feet apart to ensure that there’s enough distance between shoppers.
Food handling –
If you sell food, keep your health and safety ducks in a row by ensuring proper storage and temperature maintenance. It’s doubly important that you keep your facilities clean. This is particularly true for food surfaces, utensils, etc.
Pro tip: See to it that all your measures and policies are actually being implemented by using checklists. Compliant IA offers the following checklists for free to keep your store or facility safe and clean during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- COVID-19 Checklist for Retail and Hospitality
- Food Safety Checklist
- Health and Safety Checklist
- Temporary Store Closing Checklist
- Store Reopening Checklist
Consider re-training your team
If you haven’t done so yet, train or re-train your team so that all your employees understand how to deal with the coronavirus. Be sure to cover:
Handwashing and hygiene –
COVID-19 can spread through droplets that make it into someone’s body when they touch their nose, mouth, or eyes. That’s why it’s important that your employees understand proper handwashing practices to minimize the spread of the virus.
Cleanliness and sanitation best practices –
Regularly sanitizing your location is a must. So your employees need to know how to do it right. Educate them on what products to use as well as the steps to take to ensure that an area is clean.
Additionally, if you are using new types of chemicals in-store, make certain you teams understand clearly how to handle and use them. Take time for demonstrations and training. Also update chemical storage policies and communicate these updates across your teams.
Use of protective equipment and supplies –
Protective gear like gloves and masks are only effective when used properly. If you and your team are planning to wear them, then conduct training on how to use them and how they work.
If your stores are using any new equipment, like sprayers, for sanitization, you also need to ensure employees understand how to use this equipment to prevent injury and make certain the sanitization process works.
Engage your vendors –
It is very likely your vendors have training materials in place. Make use of their training videos, materials, and web conferences instead of spending time creating duplicate materials.
Make sure customers know about all your measures and precautions
Once you’ve established your new policies and trained your team, communicate everything to your customers. Keep them in the loop with what’s going on in your store.
If you’re enacting new safety guidelines, for example, spread the word by utilizing various communication channels. This includes in-store signage, email, and social media.
Also, keep in mind that the COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving. You will likely have to make multiple changes to your policies and practices over the next several weeks. Make it a point to communicate with your customers every time you make a change to minimize confusion and issues.
Target is an excellent example of a retailer that covers all its bases when it comes to communicating health safety measures. Check out what the company is doing:
Target has a number signs on its checkout counter: there’s a sign reminding guests to give each other space, and there’s another about Target suspending returns and exchanges for the duration of the lockdown period.
Like many other retailers, Target sent a dedicated email announcement to let people know about what it’s doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But Target stands out because it continues to remind shoppers about its policies. Target includes a health and safety blurb on top of its recent promotional emails. This is a commendable move. Because aside from making sure that shoppers are aware of the retailer’s new policies, the effort also helps reassure customers that Target is looking out for the health and safety of consumers and employees alike.
Website / Blog
Target also shares its response to COVID-19 on its website. When you land on the homepage, there’s a bar at the top inviting web visitors to view the latest updates to Target’s store health and safety plans. That link then takes people to Target’s corporate blog, which details everything that the company is doing to address the pandemic.
Finally, Target continually publishes social media posts telling people about the steps that it’s taking to protect the public and its employees from getting infected with COVID-19. Here’s a recent example, which talks about the measures Target has in place to promote cleanliness and social distancing.
Enforce your new rules
Once you’ve established and communicated your policies, see to it that they’re enforced. A big part of doing this lies in your staff. Instruct your team to regularly check your facilities to ensure that they’re compliant.
Your team should also be actively reminding guests about your store’s health and safety rules. For example, if a customer is standing too close to an employee or fellow guest, then a team member must immediately tell them (respectfully, of course) to maintain at least 6 feet of distance.
Another way to ensure that your policies are enforced? Conduct retail store audits/inspection. Have a district manager check-in with different stores via web conference to see if staff members are implementing your new rules. Managers can self-audit their stores and, if you are using an inspection platform, head office can see results in real time to quickly respond to issues.
Are signs displayed properly? Are your team members taking your measures seriously? Your managers should take note, and if anything is amiss they can create tasks and action steps to correct course.
Again, those checklists we mentioned above would be helpful for keeping your stores in check. With everything going on, you may think there is no time to fill out checklists. But, ensuring your policies are adopted, training is implemented, and your stores are operating well helps you stay proactive as you strive to protect your employees and customers.
For instance, there is a lot of talk about the importance of handwashing, and for good reason. Handwashing is a first line of defence against virus spread. However, 97% of people don’t wash their hands properly! If you have updated your hygiene policies, it is necessary to conduct health and safety inspections to ensure policy adoption.
Remember, regular inspections are also a great opportunity to educate employees and gain feedback.
And for a more thorough inspection, use a retail audit solution like Compliant IA, which streamlines actions like checklist creation, team communication, task management, and more. With Compliant IA, it’s easy to schedule audits, assign corrective actions, and follow-up on tasks.
Don’t forget about mental and emotional health
You won’t be able to properly manage COVID-19 concerns if you and your team aren’t doing well mentally or emotionally.
Staying positive isn’t always easy, particularly given the current global climate, but there are some steps you can take to lighten your spirit — and your team’s, for that matter.
Don’t keep the news on 24/7 –
While it’s important to stay informed, you don’t need to keep the news on for more than a few hours (or even minutes) per day.
Being tuned in to every little update about the pandemic — most of which will be out of your control anyway — will only lead to heightened anxiety and stress. Do yourself a favor and limit your media consumption, particularly as it relates to the coronavirus.
Try to find humor in certain situations –
It’s not always easy, but try to inject some fun or positivity into your day-to-day. For example, rather than following the news all the time, why not follow a social media account that focuses on positive news? Or, get creative with your staff and come up with humorous programs or initiatives.
Gerrity’s Supermarket in Pennsylvania, for example, came up with a toilet paper-shaped cake, to poke fun on the fact that many consumers are stocking up on toilet paper.
Focus on things you can control –
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world today, and it can feel like you don’t have control over your circumstances. While this is partly true, you should also remember that there are factors that you can control.
You can control how you react to what’s happening in your store. You’re in charge of the policies in your business and how they’re enforced. You can choose to focus on the opportunities versus the limitations that you’re facing.
By focusing on the things within your control, you’ll not only put yourself (and hopefully your team) in a more positive state, but you’ll also be more productive and efficient while you’re at it.
Check-in with each other –
Whether you’re working remotely or working side-by-side (hopefully 6 feet apart), take a few moments every day to check in with your team members. Ask them how they’re doing. Extend a helping hand. Offer sincere words of empowerment. These things don’t take a ton of effort, but they can go a long way in alleviating stress.
Stay strong, retailers!
We’re going through a rough time. Maybe you’re worried about weak retail footfall. Perhaps you’re dealing with inventory imbalances due to shoppers excessively stocking up on certain items.
Whatever the case, do your best to keep your people and customers safe, and find ways to be of service during this stressful time.
And if you need help with establishing new store guidelines or policies, Compliant IA can help. They are offering their software free to any health agency and to retailers to conduct coronavirus site inspections. Use it to deploy daily health and safety/sanitation checklists and send actionable updates via tasks to your sites, warehouses, trucks or supply chain.
About the author:
Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.