The retail industry as a whole has been hit hard by COVID. Unless your store sells groceries, toilet paper, and face masks, you may have found your stores a little less crowded than usual during the last few months. Now that many restrictions have been lifted and retailers are reopening for business, stores are starting to put the pieces back together and adapt to a new normal.
For many retailers, this includes moving forward with opening a new location, plans that were likely shelved once the global pandemic took hold.
Now that retailers have had some time to adapt and prepare for extended pandemic conditions, these new priorities should also make their way into any plans for opening new store locations.
Here’s some food for thought on how retail store owners can adjust their strategies when opening a new location post-COVID.
Shift to virtual interviews and onboarding
The COVID pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of how a retail environment looks and functions, including the way you find, hire, and train new employees. New retail locations will need to pay particularly close attention to new ways to source and onboard employees, as these stores are building teams from the ground up.
For starters, consider shifting to a virtual interview process. Tools like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts have made the virtual interview simple and streamlined for the candidate and inexpensive for the retailer. Using online tools prevents the employee from having to venture into the store so both parties can maintain social distancing. As an added bonus, it also gives you a peek into the candidate’s ability to use technology and adapt based on current needs.
Retailers should consider taking their virtual hiring a step further by making their entire onboarding and training processes virtual, too. Digital HR tools like Humi or ADP makes the traditional new hire paperwork a breeze, plus new hires can do the paperwork at their convenience prior to the first day. This is a major plus for retailers who don’t want to waste precious Day 1 training time on paperwork.
Update employee standard operating procedures
One of the benefits of hiring new employees to run your new location is the fact that they can get accustomed to COVID-related changes in how you operate from the very beginning.
In existing stores, employees had to scramble to create a safer shopping environment, such as putting out hand sanitizing stations, plastic shields at the cash wrap, and limiting the number of shoppers in the store.
But for new employees just starting their journey with your company, you can start training them in the “new” way of operating from the very beginning. This helps them to form good habits early and may be less likely to let important details fall through the cracks.
If you keep a book of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), then these will likely need to be updated to reflect any new changes related to COVID. This allows your new stores to have the most up to date versions of your protocols from the very beginning.
Some of the areas you may need to reexamine include, but are not limited to:
- Store capacity based on square footage
- Store layout
- Product arrangement and accessibility
- In-store sampling, testing, or fittings
- Mask requirements
- Cleaning schedules and level of detail
- Restocking schedules
- Shipping and receiving protocols
- Employee store coverage
Some of these requirements may even inform your choice of store location or service offerings. Retailers must consider the big picture of how their new location will be viable in the “new normal” and how owners can optimise it for the best in-store customer experience.
If you choose to integrate any new services, such as curbside pickup, those services will also benefit from written procedures (more on this in a later section).
Rethink the store layout
Store capacity is usually based on square footage, but of the people who are allowed in your store at one time, you still need a way to help them maintain social distancing.
One way to do this is to reconsider your store layout. Grocery stores have remained open during the pandemic and have had time to test what works and what doesn’t in a retail environment, so many retailers will likely be following the grocery store’s lead when it comes to layout design.
Depending on your store, you may need to widen aisles or make them one way only. You may have to remove fixtures or other items to allow for better traffic flow. Doing so could mean removing some products from your store altogether or merchandising them differently. Adding marks on your floor to indicate where people should stand in a queue may also be beneficial.
Signage will also play an increasingly important role, especially if you want customers to take a certain route through your store. Wayfinding signage can help customers find what they’re looking for in your store to expedite the in-store process. Speed and efficiency are what modern shoppers are looking for post-COVID, a far cry from the retail environments that formerly sought to keep people in store longer.
Upgrade your service offerings for post-COVID needs
Shoppers’ needs and expectations changed seemingly overnight when the COVID-19 pandemic started impacting the country. As a result, many store owners shifted their offerings to accommodate new demands from their customers.
For example, curbside pickup and delivery services surged in popularity to help customers maintain social distance without sacrificing sales. Some stores started expanding their product offerings to include items that were becoming hard to find, such as toilet paper, groceries, and hand sanitiser. Some restaurants started offering bulk family meal deals coupled with curbside pickup while dining rooms were closed.
Adapt grand opening events to digital channels
Last but not least, opening a new store used to mean hosting a large-scale Grand Opening event filled with guests. But in a post-COVID landscape, a Grand Opening celebration just seems like a bad idea.
Still, given that these major opening events are seen as critical in helping new stores establish themselves and get off to a great start, they’ll need to rethink the way they promote their new location.
Digital media will likely play an important role, as well as online promotions. It could be that stores conduct their Grand Opening celebration over the course of several days to avoid flooding their store with people all at once. Having mini events by appointment or sign-up could also play a role in showcasing your new location without putting your customers at risk.
ARE YOU READY TO OPEN YOUR NEXT LOCATION?
Retailers have plenty of work cut out for them when opening a new location post-COVID. Being a retailer in a post-COVID landscape is all about adapting. The ability to identify local market needs and be able to pivot in a timely manner will be key in capitalizing on sales and building a strong reputation from the start. If you’re ready to open your next location, contact us today to work with our expert team to make your next store opening a hit.