There is no getting away from the fact that social distancing is going to be around for quite some time. Also known as physical distancing, this technique refers to keeping space between yourself and other people when outside your home, and it has become one of the key underlying pieces of guidance during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because social distancing has been proven to be effective at helping to prevent the spread of viruses in the general population.
The current guidance is that people should stay at least 1.5m away from another, and ideally 2m apart in enclosed spaces such as shops. However, as you might expect, actually adhering to the recommended social distance isn’t always easy – especially when indoors where there are likely to be other people from outside your household.
If you are a retailer, you may be concerned about how you can encourage back to your retail store so that they can continue to enjoy shopping with you, but also maintaining social distance, both for their safety and that of your staff. And let’s face it, unless customers feel confident that you are adhering to social distancing guidelines, they may want to stay away entirely.
So, how can you apply social distancing to your store without negatively impacting on customer experience? Here’s our advice for practical steps that you can take that will enable you to open and operate safely while still delivering quality customer service every time.
Unsurprisingly, one of the first things that you should think about is the health of your team and your customers who are actually working in or visiting your store. Applying social distancing is all very well, but if there is someone who is actually unwell in your store, there is still an additional degree of risk.
Protect your staff and your customers by reminding your team that they should only come into work if everyone in their household is well and nobody is self-isolating. You may also like to get in touch with your customers (more on that later) to ask them to stay at home should they or someone in their household be unwell. Many stores are placing reminders to this effect in store windows to try and minimize the likelihood of any sick customers visiting them. Make sure that your team are able to wash their hands as regularly as they feel that they need to, and if you are using PPE, that you have the necessary supplies at all times.
Limiting the number of people who enter your store
It is strongly advised that all retailers limit the number of people who enter their store while social distancing is being enforced. This will help to ensure that are not too many people in a small space, making social distancing much easier to maintain. How many people you should allow into your retail store will depend on a number of different factors but will be primarily based on the overall square footage of your premises.
The current recommendations are that there is no more than a single person per 4 square metres of floor space. To determine the maximum number of people you should have in your store at any one time, you should figure out the area of the customer area (length x width) and then divide this answer by 4. For example, a retail store that has an area of 160sqm can have a maximum occupancy of 40 people in the customer area. However, you will also need to deduct from this number any staff that you have. If you have 5 staff also working in this area, then you should impose a maximum limit of 35 customers at any one time. But, is 35 customers really practical? Or safe? Retailers will need to think extremely carefully about the layouts of their stores in order to determine how their customers can safely and practically move around the store at any one time. This is particularly true when it comes to queueing.
Unfortunately, it will be down to your staff to police the number of people entering your store and how they do this. Once you reach what you consider to be a safe and practical capacity, a ‘one in and one out’ approach seems to be the easiest way to maintain safe numbers and adequate social distancing.
Safe queueing and social distancing
Queues tend to be the part of a retail store where people come into the closest contact, particularly if the queuing is taking some time as may be the case when you are taking extra safety precautions in your retail store. Enabling customers to remain a safe distance from one another is crucial and so you will need to implement a system to make this possible. The easiest way to do this it to mark out queuing spots at set distances apart so far as is practical. For some sites, it may only be possible to mark out 2 spaces, while for others, a longer queue may be a possibility.
Taking payments in store
One of the main times in which your staff are likely to come into contact with customers is during the checkout process. Most stores now offer multiple ways to pay, with contactless card payments being particularly valuable at the moment. Encouraging your customers to pay in this way wherever possible will limit the amount of cash that your staff and customers are transferring between them, which in turn reduces the risk of passing any harmful bacteria and makes transactions much safer. Going contactless also means that your customers won’t need to use pin pads, which would otherwise need to be thoroughly cleaned between each transaction to ensure maximum safety.
If it is feasible, you may want to put up plexiglass barriers at any regular points of interaction, such as checkouts or collection points. This will provide an additional degree of protection and give your customers peace of mind that you are considering their safety. If you have a point of sale system that enables you to, such as Hike, offer your customers the option of a receipt that is emailed directly to them to limit contact even more. You may also be able to get their permission to use their email address in future marketing efforts.
Remember, you want your customers to feel safe and comfortable when visiting your store and it is your queuing system and their interactions with staff that is most likely to affect this, closely followed by your entry and exit points. If your customers are happy with your queuing system, they are more likely to visit again.
Consider your entry and exit points
Entry and exit points to stores can always become bottlenecks, especially when it is busy and particularly when you consider that most entryways are not necessarily 2m wide to allow safe distance. This means that in order to maintain social distancing and keep your customers and staff safe, you will need to think about how you will enable customers to enter and leave your store. If you have two access points, it may be simple enough to turn one into an ‘entrance only’ while reserving the other for customers who are leaving. However, if you only have a single entrance, you may have to be more creative when it comes to planning how your customers will visit you safely.
Contact-free entry is the most ideal solution. This is great if you already have automatic doors to your store, but if this isn’t the case, you may need to consider what you can do to ensure that entry requires minimal contact with any surface. This may mean propping doors permanently open and using the staff member at the entrance to control the flow of customers.
Encourage customers to order online
Of course, if you have an online store you can offer your customers the opportunity to avoid having to come into store altogether without having to miss out on your products. An increasing number of businesses have come online in the last decade, and the recent Covid-19 pandemic has shown many retail stores just how vital it is to have the capability of selling online direct to their customers at any time of the day or night.
Getting started with an online retail store is now easier than ever before. You can choose to sell your products on a Marketplace such as Amazon or eBay or set up a store with a provider like Shopify. Great point of sale systems can even integrate with online stores for you, enabling you to start selling over the internet virtually instantly. For example, Hike will instantly sync your inventory products with Shopify and centralize all of your orders in real time so that you remain in complete control of your product management, whether you are selling instore, online or both.
Hike POS offers integrations with multiple selling platforms, including Shopify, BigCommerce and WooCommerce.
If you are selling online, your customers will appreciate a choice of options when it comes to how they will receive their products, particularly if they are self-isolating or have concerns about coming into contact with other people despite your social distancing measures. Many stores have started to offer free in-store collections that adhere to social distancing guidelines which enable customers to get in and out quickly and with minimal contact with others. You can set specific times to ensure that you don’t have too many customers collecting at the same time. If necessary, you can implement a social distance queuing system to help with the collection process. If customers are paying on collection, encourage contactless and offer e-receipts if you have a POS that supports this.
Social distancing will also play a key role in any deliveries that you are offering. Whether you use a delivery company to carry out your deliveries on your behalf or you have staff fulfilling this service, you’ll need to make sure that they are adhering to all government recommendations for social distancing, such as contact-free drop-offs where they maintain a safe distance from the door while the customer retrieves the goods from their doorstep. This will also give your customers peace of mind when it comes to receiving goods from you. You should also advise your drivers to wash their hands or use sanitizer between every delivery to keep themselves as safe as possible.
Make your customers aware of what your social distancing measures are
Unsurprisingly, your customers will almost certainly want to know what social distancing measures your retail store has put in place before they will even consider visiting. This is where it is extremely helpful to have a full-service point of sale system, like Hike, that stores valuable information about your customers – including their home or email addresses. This will enable you to get in contact with them and keep them up to date with the changes that you are making to your operations that are beneficial to their safety.
In addition to contact them directly, if you already use social media channels, these provide the perfect way to give real-time updates to your customers about the situation at your retail store, such as if you need to close early for any reason or if you have adjusted your social distancing measures and want to let customers know before they arrive.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to give your customers helpful prompts when they enter or travel around your bricks and mortar store. Signs in the windows advising customers on social distancing measures, reminding them to keep 2 metres apart or follow a set route around the store are also beneficial. You may want to include signs at the checkouts to ask customers to pay using contactless wherever possible too. Many stores are even adding auto-dispensing bottles of sanitizer to entrances, exits and pay stations to minimize risk and keep their customers and staff safe.
With social distancing set to change the retail landscape for months or even years to come, your store’s adaptability to these new measures will be crucial to its success. An all-in-one retail platform like Hike can help. To find out more, or to schedule your free, no-obligation trial, please get in touch.