5 Lessons Learned from Retail Reopenings

14 April 2021

Operations

There are some things you can never be too prepared for, and reopening a retail store is one of them. 

Some countries, like the UK, are emerging from lockdown, while others are going back into it or having curfews tightened.

This uncertainty is beyond frustrating, but one thing is certain - it won’t last forever, and at some point retail will be having a renaissance and a surge in foot traffic and purchases to go along with it. 

We can already see consumer sentiment changing to reflect this. 

In the US, 50% of consumers, especially millennials, are expecting to spend more to treat themselves after a challenging year. In the UK, 47% of consumers expect to do the same to reward themselves. 

As of yesterday, when stores and restaurants reopened in the UK, foot traffic had nearly doubled compared to a week earlier. Analysts have predicted an almost 50% rise in sales. 

And as more people get vaccinated, comfort levels with shopping will increase too. 33% of vaccinated individuals do more out-of-home activities, vs only 22% of unvaccinated individuals. 

But even as consumers flock back to stores, be it this week or in 2 months, the lessons learned from closings and reopenings shouldn’t be forgotten. They’ll help your business be more reactive, competitive and agile, whatever the future holds. 

Looking back on the multiple closings and re-openings over the past year, here are 5 key lessons to keep in mind moving forward that will help your business thrive. 


1) Checklists are a powerful tool. 

Retail runs on checklists. But when it comes to reopening, their role has become even more essential. 

We’ve seen our customers use checklists-  before reopening and then on a daily, weekly and monthly basis - to evaluate store needs and performance in these areas: 

 

  • Equipment and maintenance (security, lighting, air conditioning, etc) 
  • Display and site set up
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Software - POS systems, etc 
  • Staff health and absences 
  • Staff feedback 

 

Not only are checklists a standardized way to measure what every store needs before reopening, but they’re also a great way to get qualitative feedback from frontline employees and gain new insight into customer behaviour. 

No matter how many consumer sentiment studies get published, the people who know consumers best are the ones of the frontlines with them. As consumer behaviour changes and evolves, store teams will be the first ones to notice it, and that’s the kind of insight every organization needs right now. Checklists are a great way to tap into this goldmine of data. 

And consumers aren’t the only ones changing and evolving - so is the sentiment of store teams. They’re the ones delivering your brand promise, no matter how many stressful reopenings they’ve gone through. Checklists are an invaluable way to get feedback from teams, to make sure they have everything they need and feel supported to perform at their best. 

But there’s a catch here - to effectively gather information, checklists have to be digitized. 

Related: It’s time to go digital: 5 reasons to switch to digital checklists 

 

2) Training is the shortcut to adapting to new consumer behavior. 

Over the last year, retail employees have become safety enforcers, anxious customer reassurers, click and collect experts, order fulfilment specialists - and on top of all that, facilitators of the perfect customer experience. 

Has their training kept up with this plethora of new responsibilities?

Unless organizations have been carefully tailoring training around the store associate role for the last year, probably not. 

Store associates - especially new ones and those returning to work after months of being furloughed - need targeted training on the realities and responsibilities of their new roles. Because store teams do have new roles, whichever way you look at it, and the standard take-home binder of training materials isn’t going to cut it anymore. 

To quickly ramp up your store teams on the ins and outs of their new roles, create targeted trainings on things like: 

 

  • Advising and relationship building with customers from a distance 
  • Using new tech platforms for ship-to-store and click and collect 
  • The “new” customer experience 
  • Enforcing social distancing rules and guidelines 
  • Fitting rooms and COVID restrictions 

Related: 5 Reasons Workplace Training is Failing Frontline Employees 

 

3) Keep store associates mobilized with internal communications

Whether your store teams are on the job, off the job or waiting to make a return, the quality of customer experience and how well your business responds to change is dependent on how well employees are kept in the loop through internal communications. 

Not only do effective internal communications make sure no one is taken by surprise when it’s time to return to work, but they also keep staff morale high during times of uncertainty. 

Effective internal communications don’t just help organizations get information to every retail employee, but they also help get information back - for example, whether staff are healthy enough to work or making sure every staff member has read and understood new policies before they go back on the job. 

Pro-tip - combine your internal communications with targeted training to give information more context and make it more memorable - wherever your store teams are. 

Related: 6 Ways to Support Frontline Employees with Internal Communications

 

4) Use remote operations to take stock of each store, virtually. 

Whether you’re reopening for the first time or the third time, there’s no back to normal. Seasons, regulations and consumer behaviour all change. That means every square foot of space in every location needs to be put to the best possible use. 

Additionally, another unfortunate consequence of the pandemic is a reduction in the numbers of field and regional teams. There are fewer field managers with larger territories and more locations to visit. Supplementing with remote processes helps them save time and get a broader coverage of locations in their network. 

To get the visibility required to do that, supplement in-person processes like visits and audits with remote ones. 

For example, use a combination of delegating simplified checklists to store associates, videos and photos to take stock of what each location needs before and during reopening. It’s a much faster and more cost effective way to allocate resources before stores need it, and before it impacts customer experience. 

We’ve seen our customers use remote visits to make sure visual merchandising teams understand the setup (without having to take the time to visit in-person), or evaluate what sanitation needs to be done. 

Related: 5 Benefits of Managing Store Operations Remotely

 

5) Help store associates back into the flow of work with tech 

New tech has made things like ship-to-store, click and collect and all the other things we rely on a reality over the last year. 

But without the right approach, all this new tech can add even more work for store teams with already extra heavy workloads. 

It’s so important that new tech shouldn’t just improve the customer experience, but the retail employee experience as well.

Store associates have more tasks now than ever, and after a year of jobs cuts there are fewer of them than before. Tech can also be used to help them get back into the flow of work, helping them manage all their tasks instead of their tasks managing them. When there are fewer employees, with bigger workloads and more customers to serve, they simply can’t afford to spend a second too long on repetitive admin work. 

By using tech to streamline repetitive tasks, you can liberate your store associates from routine work and refocus them on work that has more impact - like spending time with customers. 

Related: 5 Reasons your frontline employees need digital tasks to be productive 

A digital workplace like YOOBIC can help you make your retail reopenings as smooth as possible. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we've seen: 

  • A 4x increase in task and campaign completion
  • An 80x increase in lessons completed 
  • A 30% increase in communication between HQ, field and store teams

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A retail reboot is coming. What do you need to be prepared for it? Join us for a webinar on Thursday May 6th at 11 AM EST to find out! 

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