Consumers and retailers are preparing for a return to “normal,” but there is some question as to what that will look like.
As the pandemic curve begins to flatten and trend downward, workforce management solutions provider Reflexis Inc. has compiled top tips from its essential retail customers on the process of reopening stores and what to expect next. Following are 10 recommended steps for successful reopening and transition to the “new normal” of brick-and-mortar retail.
1. Communicate with associates: Both leading up to, and during, reopening, clear, top-down communication helps build trust and goodwill for returning associates. Email and phone trees can get stale or go astray when managers can’t share updates with associates face-to-face, so retailers should consider trackable, real-time, peer-to-peer messaging instead.
2. Hire and rehire: As business operations slowly normalize, retailers will need to restaff stores to account for increased customer traffic and to manage promotions and new product introductions that may have been put on hold. Reflexis advises retailers to plan ahead for staggered reopening and bring more associates on over time.
During unprecedented disruption, year-over-year forecasting doesn’t produce accurate schedules. Therefore, Reflexis advises that advanced forecasting models, including artificial intelligence (AI)-powered options, can help retailers more accurately anticipate your hiring and staffing needs.
3. Safety first: Before reopening, retailers need to ensure a safe working environment. This means providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for store associates, additional cleaning supplies, sneeze shields, signage, and more. As traffic increases, retailers will also need more frequent cleanings and increased supplies, so Reflexis urges to make sure store teams have adequate resources. Retailers should also identify hotspot “touch-surfaces” like timeclocks and POS systems and look for alternatives using facial recognition and voice control to reduce contact.
4. Plan ahead: Occupancy restrictions and social distancing guidelines will loosen gradually, so retailers should figure out the maximum capacity of their stores over time, based on staggered reopening recommendations, and plan ahead for factors such as scheduling and available services. Reflexis advises retailers to build in staggered staffing increases using intelligent scheduling automation, rather than tasking individual store managers to keep track of occupancy targets.
5. Train store teams on new procedures: Associates need to know not only how to execute new safety procedures and policies, but how to deal with customers who may not be following guidelines. Reflexis recommends assigning safety captains to verify compliance and help answer employee or customer questions.
6. Execute reliably: In order to keep stores clean, safe, and compliant, store associates need clear, prioritized tasks for safety and sanitization activities, while managers need visibility into real-time completion rates to ensure all safety-related tasks are executed appropriately. Reflexis says checklist are vital to help keep track of what needs to be cleaned at opening, throughout the day, and at closing.
7. Adapt to new models: Reflexis anticipates the “new normal” will likely include new retail models— like shopping by appointment—and increased emphasis on certain existing models—like curbside pickup services. These alternatives to traditional in-store shopping can help serve customers while complying with social distancing and health and safety guidelines. Easy omnichannel booking for services like curbside pickup or virtual queuing, via a retailer’s website or mobile app, can help build customer confidence and loyalty.
8. Offer flexibility to frontline associates: Collaborative scheduling processes are more important than ever, so Reflexis advises that tools like mobile employee self-service can help associates adjust their availability and help managers find replacements if people call out.
9. Create a single source of truth: As reopening and recovery gain momentum, store managers and associates will face rapidly changing priorities and procedures. Giving them a single view into all health and safety activities, pandemic-related updates, and guidance from leadership helps store teams stay on top of the most important developments. Reflexis recommends that retail management coordinate with the legal department to review new executive orders and regulations from local, regional, and national governments.
10. Stay agile: No matter how well-planned your initial reopening process is, Reflexis cautions that circumstances are still likely to change in unpredictable ways. The company suggests that the best thing retailers can do is expect change and take key learnings into the future.
Editor’s note: Reflexis recently partnered with Chain Store Age to present a webinar, “The New Retail Landscape: Top Five Things Retailers Need to Know for Recovery,” featuring guest speaker Sucharita Kodali, VP/principal analyst of Forrester Research. After the session, she answered four key questions about how technology can help customers and employees safely interact as retailers start to reopen.