12 August 2020, 06:48 AM
  • Ian Wright, founder of Merchant Machine, lists a few simple guidelines for shop owners and workers that may help to create a safer shop environment during the pandemic
Ian Wright, Merchant Machine: 5 ways to run your business safely during the pandemic

Food retailing have reached “new high levels since the start of the pandemic” with a 5.3% rise of volume food sales, according to an ONS study. But at the same time, the pandemic continues to thrive and countries across Europe harden their hygiene measures – that is why shop owners must continue to enhance their efforts to survive.

It is therefore essential for food shop retailers to ensure that their store is ‘COVID-proof’ to provide the best and safest environment for themselves and their customers – which means introducing and following basic rules such as respecting strict hygiene guidelines and demanding the mandatory usage of face covering.

Inform and direct customers
First of all, it is essential for food shop owners to display posters and install floor markers to help inform or remind customers about public health measures – as well as providing written or spoken communication to workers. A ‘wear a mask’ sign at the entry of the store can be installed to urge customers to wear face masks, as it is now compulsory in stores in the UK (since 24th July).

Floor markers can be placed to maintain social distancing, but also to facilitate the flow in the store and manage queues to reduce congestion and contact between customer.

Provide hand sanitiser
Providing the shop with contactless hand sanitiser is also very important as it helps to reduce the risk of transmission by touching products while browsing.

Reorganise the store
The number of people allowed in the store will depend on its size, and limiting the number of clients in the store might be essential to ensure a safe environment and respect social distancing. To this end, total floorspace as well as possible pinch points and busy areas have to be considered.

What could help to ensure that these guidelines are respected is by managing outside queues – with the help of queuing systems or staff directing customers. The use of permanent physical structures, like bike racks, can also help to control the traffic of customers queuing up.

Let us not forget the vital role of the shop workers in ensuring a safe shop environment, by providing advice or assistance, and maintaining social distance.

Rethinking opening hours
As many Brits remain reluctant to visit physical shopping locations and many shops experiencing a drop in footfall, it is important for food shop owners to reduce the opening hours if necessary.

It might be useful, in these cases, to open a new time slot or to stagger opening hours – which will offer more flexibility to the customers. 

Becoming tech-savvy and connecting locally
Having an online presence has become essential as a way for retailers to stay in touch with their costumers and keep them informed about the services. This does not have to mean engaging costly expenses in building a perfect business website; a simple social media account will do the trick to communicate with your community and offer online services such as delivery or pre-order. An e-commerce strategy will open an infinite world of opportunities that any shop owners must embrace to stay competitive.

Reducing physical contact as much as possible involves the use of new technologies for shop owners. Contactless payment or self-checkout are great alternatives to help the shop running smoothly and safely during the pandemic.

Better together
Finally, the power of the community should not be left aside, especially when mutual assistance has risen again during the pandemic. Connecting with other businesses to create and maintain a professional network might really be decisive in order for businesses to thrive during the lockdown. 

If it’s impossible to stay open, reinventing the business by collaborating with other retailers might be a turning point. Seeking support from the local community via sharing your experience as a shop owner or offering vouchers might be helpful to encourage people to shop locally too.

These adjustments may be costly and arduous to applicate, but they are a key way to prepare for an uncertain future. It is not being pessimistic to bear in mind the possibility of a new wave. If this happens and the country is forced into a new lockdown, offering deliveries and online services – even via social media accounts - will maintain the link with your customers and keep your business afloat.

Furthermore, this can create new opportunities, strengthen your bond with your customer base and open the door to more creativity.

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