Retail Roundup: 7 Key Trends as Retailers Reopen Stores

From big retail chains to small and medium businesses, we’re seeing retailers reopen stores, but they face three challenges: new processes, legal requirements, and consumer behaviors. As the pandemic remains in the background, what are stores looking like today?

Since the first week of May, several retailers have reopened after almost eight weeks of being shut down. Many are scheduled to follow suit throughout the month until June.

As stores around the world welcome consumers again, there have been varying degrees of modifications, adjustments, and precautions. Let’s look at a few of them.

1. Phased reopening

Macy’s opened 68 stores out of its approximately 775 stores on May 5. Before the month ends, the retailer plans to open 50 more, while the rest will open by mid-June.

For most retailers, deciding which stores to reopen depends on location. Besides Macy’s, GameStop and Express have reopened stores in Georgia and South Carolina where governments relaxed restrictions.

Regulations in selected counties in California are also easing. The government will soon allow businesses with the lowest public health risk to operate. Retail and manufacturing could expect to reopen in the coming months.

Meanwhile, other big retailers reopening stores gradually this May include At Home, Belk, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dillard’s, Hobby Lobby, Williams Sonoma, and more. 

2. Operating at various reduced capacities

In Northeast Florida, retailers have reopened at 25% capacity. Following this directive, Town Center stores had someone controlling the door to monitor the entry of customers and following a list of who to allow in next.

Anna Vichitcholchai of RetailNext shared that in Asia, stores are operating with less staff, shorter hours, and fewer shifts. Working on the same team and shift reduces staff exposure to other people that could spread the virus.

3. Following CDC guidelines for safety

Safety should be a top precaution as retailers reopen. While optional, masks are mandatory for Costco staff and consumers. In addition to masks, Simon Property Group also offers free individual sanitizing wipe packets upon request and conducts temperature checks using infrared thermometers.

Besides limiting the number of people inside the store, Sibley’s West in Arizona requires staff to wear masks and make disposable gloves available for customers. The store also has hand sanitizer stations and disinfects high-touch areas frequently.

4. Increasing one-on-one and online appointments

Curbside pickup has been successful for Best Buy. But the retailer is reopening stores for online appointments only. This is for complex purchases that customers would want to see in person such as washing machines and refrigerators.

Outside of Asia, the Apple Store in Vienna was the first one to reopen on May 5. While shoppers can visit the store with precautions, Apple is prioritizing service and support for hardware owners. Others are advised to shop online for delivery or pickup.

5. Redesigning stores and in-store experiences as retailers reopen

Lush began reopening stores in Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria, last month but is ramping it up in May. Known for hands-on testing and zero packaging products, Lush had to modify the in-store experience to accommodate health guidelines.

In addition to sanitation measures, Lush is pausing hands-on demos and product testers. The retailer also encourages consumers to wash hands on entering with their own soap.

Other in-store experiences that retailers such as Elena Mirò in Italy are considering include designating a spot for individual shoppers and assigning dedicated staff to bring stocks that would be sanitized and wrapped.

6. Introducing personal shopping services and retraining staff as retailers reopen

With social distancing policies, retailers have started to offer personal shopping services. Zappos introduced a Customer Service for Anything, adding an actual human touch in its customer engagement.

In Poland, customers can browse Vitkac’s products virtually via video calls. In England, Browns’ staff are using an app to view customers’ online wish lists and book fitting rooms. 

7. Waiting to open

While a lot of retailers have reopened, many are waiting for enough public health data and government advice to operate again. Among big retail chains, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, Nordstrom and TJX are sitting out for now. 

As the rate of cases eases off and governments start to relax restrictions, more retailers are reopening in the next months. It’s interesting to see how retailers will find a balance between operating with social distancing and safety measures in place and delivering excellent customer experiences.