Tips for Maintaining Social Distancing in the Retail Environment
If you are reading this in the Fall of 2020, we have been taking global precautions to reduce the coronavirus' spread for eight months. During that time, we have adapted our everyday lives to practice social distancing. These necessary precautions have impacted how we experience most environments. Among them, retail environments.
After having their doors shuttered for weeks and in some cases months, retail locations are welcoming customers back into their storefront. They need to make up for months of lost revenue but do so in a way that meets local guidelines and keeps customers and employees safer.
There are many tactics to achieve these goals. However, these two tips can help retailers provide safe shopping environments designed to drive revenue while maintaining an in-store experience on par with their brand.
Tip #1: Increase Throughput
Experts suggest that reducing density within a space reduces the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus. This notion has taken the form of limiting the number of customers allowed to enter the store at once, and something you may have experienced early in the pandemic when you shopped at your local Costco or Home Depot.
A good rule of thumb that several large retailers are following is an equation referred to as "Little's Law," which is defined as:
Throughput through the store (in customers per hour) = number of customers in the store ÷ time spent in the store (in hours)
To increase throughput, you need to increase the number of customers in your store. There are a couple of different methods you can use to do that, while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Expand footprint to allow for higher density.
This practice may come in the form of using available outdoor space for racks and displays. If outdoor space isn't available to you, be sure you are using displays or furniture in the most efficient way possible in your storefront. This type of positioning will allow more room for shoppers to practice social distancing while also displaying merchandise effectively.
Help guests shop more quickly to increase the number of shoppers.
If expanding your store's footprint isn't an option, focus on reducing the shopping time to allow for a higher quantity of customers. This approach may go against everything you know as a retailer. Historically, the longer a customer lingers in your store, the more engaged they are, and more likely they are to spend more money. However, in this scenario, you want them to cycle in and out of the store efficiently.
To reduce the amount of time a customer spends in your store, reduce friction. Effective displays can encourage quick decision making. Staffing accordingly is also critical. The last thing you want is for throughput to be negatively impacted because people are waiting in the check-out line. Finally, use social media and email marketing to keep loyal customers in the know about what items are in stock. By doing this, you can help shoppers know what they are looking for and find it more quickly when they visit your brick and mortar location.
Tip #2: Encourage Safe Behavior without Sacrificing Customer Experience
A common challenge that retailers experience is reinforcing the importance of wearing a mask and maintaining 6-foot distance apart without sacrificing consumer experience. Using signage to reiterate the importance of these safety measures is a feasible and straightforward approach. However, if you want to go with a less in your face method, use the store footprint itself to encourage social distancing and efficient flow through.
For example, in addition to floor stickers and signage to direct shoppers, incorporate temporary displays and barriers that act as promotions to help customers move more safely. Instead of just making social distancing requirements clear and consistent, your retail environment can also be a natural extension of customer behavior and a socially positive experience.
There is no silver bullet for retailers to use as they strategize how to provide a safer environment without sacrificing shopper experience. However, incorporating these two tips to increase throughput, give shoppers a fluid way to move through your store, and reiterate best social distancing best practices is a great place to start!