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If You Open, Will They Come?

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By now, phrases like “the new normal” may be well-worn to the point of cliché, but as some states begin to reopen non-essential businesses to the public, it’s clear that the world that we are returning to has changed irrevocably. So, what does the reopening that is beginning to take place in certain parts of the country mean for retailers? Business as usual is not an option, and customer and employee safety must be the priority for anyone opening their doors to the public until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available. Fortunately, many retailers and industry groups such as ICSC and the National Restaurant Association are developing protocols for how retail can operate in a pandemic.

Among the ideas that retailers are adopting these days as best practices include:

  • Screening the temperatures of employees (and customers, in some cases) Limiting hours of operation
  • Metering the number of people allowed inside a store at one time • Creating one-way aisles
  • Placing six-foot social distancing markers on the floor near cash registers • Limiting purchase quantities for high-demand items
  • Requiring employees and customers to wear masks
  • Providing plexiglass shields, gloves and other PPE for employees
  • Installing ample signage reminding customers of the new store protocols

Other measures that may take longer for retailers to implement include contactless payment options, digital contact tracing, reliable access to buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) services, and improved security measures to protect customers and employees from those who refuse to follow these guidelines. In addition, the pandemic has underlined the precarious economic situation that many service workers face. Companies will need to consider giving low-wage and part-time employees the ability to take paid sick leave and access to medical benefits. This will help employees feel more secure in staying home when they are sick and will also give customers peace of mind that they won’t be infected by a sick employee.

As a landlord, ShopCore has worked from the beginning of the pandemic to help smaller tenants navigate the crisis. The company created a COVID-19 business resource page on their website, offering information about and links to federal government stimulus programs, as well as links to the Centers for Disease Control, Small Business Administration and pertinent state agencies in the markets where they operate. The teams are working with tenants to understand their grievances and how to best help them navigate through this crisis. At many properties, ShopCore instituted Curb Collect, a service where tenants can deliver goods to shoppers’ cars at designated areas within the parking lots. Many of the grocery anchors have done this throughout the crisis, and ShopCore is thrilled to extend the service for their mom-and-pop tenants, so each group of tenants has a designed space to deliver goods.

The bigger question is: will this be enough to convince customers to return to the stores?

In China, where the surveillance state is a more accepted way of life and the reopening happened after the virus began trailing off, there was an initial spike of so-called “revenge shopping” where people reacted to pent-up demand as soon as they could. However, H&M recently reported that for the first week where substantially all Chinese stores were open sales were down 23% year-over-year.

It will take time before demand begins to ramp back up. Retailers and consumers alike will need to be patient as the best practices we are focused on today will shift and evolve over time. The retailers that take this threat seriously will emerge with reputations intact and a high level of customer trust. To get our stores open and our economy back on track, every stakeholder needs to do their part and practice cooperation and patience during these uncertain times.

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