Express is the latest retailer to weigh in on its reopening plans for stores closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The apparel retailer said it expects to reopen approximately 300 of its stores before Memorial Day, doing so in accordance with the latest federal and state guidelines and with adherence to new health and safety protocols. Beginning with a few stores that opened last week in Georgia and South Carolina, Express plans on taking a phased approach with the pace and staffing calibrated to mall traffic and consumer demand.
"This is a very fluid situation, and we will continue to operate in an agile and adaptive manner,” said CEO Tim Baxter. “The health and safety of our associates and customers is our priority as we reopen our stores.”
Baxter acknowledged that it will take time before consumer confidence and shopping activity reach pre-pandemic levels. But he expressed confidence that the actions it has taken and its “EXPRESSway Forward” strategy that it has already begun to activate will “put us in a strong position to achieve our long term objectives."
Express detailed the actions it will take provide a safe and comfortable environment for its workers and customers. They include:
• Training associates on the new health and safety protocols;
• Practicing proper social distancing, and provide contact-free customer service and payment options;
• Cleaning and sanitizing all stores thoroughly and frequently;
• Introducing enhanced BOPIS customer experience in all reopened stores
Express will offer curbside pickup at Easton in Columbus, Ohio, and at test locations in Chicago, with a plan to expand to more stores based on consumer response
Express said it has maintained the momentum of a number of key strategic initiatives via its Forward strategy, including the following:
• Applied the new Express Edit design and merchandising approach through virtual co-creation sessions between the company's designers and its customers
• Conducted virtual research in order to stay attuned to customer views and preferences;
• Expanded digital stylist live chat feature to provide real-time product and wardrobe assistance; and
• Executed all key milestone meetings in the new go-to market process virtually to stay on track to deliver the best new product for the fourth quarter.
As previously reported, Express took a number of actions to maintain sufficient liquidity throughout the COVID-19 crisis. These include:
• Accessed $165 million from its credit facility; this was in addition to $207 million cash on hand at the beginning of the year;
• Significantly reduced expenses, capital expenditures and working capital; this included inventory reductions, furloughing most store associates and a number of corporate associates, suspending merit pay increases, and freezing all hiring with the exception of a few critical senior leadership positions for which candidates had already been identified; and
• Additional benefits expected from the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) including the expanded operating loss carryback, employer payroll tax credit and deferral provisions.