Social Distance Sign on the floor during COVID-19

How Can Retailers Encourage Safer Shopping?

7 min read • Jul 07, 2020 • Katherine O'Malley

Customers are the life-blood of every retailer. Without buyers, there is no retail. Given that consumer spending decreased by 13.6% in April, retailers need customers to shop more. But for many customers, they need to feel safe in order to shop.

So what should retailers do to make their customers feel safe? Every retailer will have unique needs based on their products and customer bases, but a few key ideas stand out—follow guidelines, tell your customers what you are doing, and help reduce customers’ exposure.

Follow Guidelines

First and foremost, adhere to federal, local, and industry safety guidelines regarding masks, handwashing, social distancing, and any other areas relevant to your business.

You should review:

  • CDC guidelines
  • State and municipal guidelines
  • Operation Open Doors Checklist from the National Retail Federation
  • Industry guidelines. For example, FDA guidelines recommend handwashing stations and employee screening for food retailers.

Get Certified

Many states, cities, and industries have created certification programs. Completing the program requirements—often a series of webinars on safety protocols with an agreement to implement those—allows you to display a certified logo. The logo shows your commitment to safety and may give you a competitive advantage over uncertified businesses.

For example, the staff at Compass Rose Brewery in North Carolina completed the Count On Me NC COVID-19 training. Additionally, they plan to operate using the guidelines established by the NC Craft Brewers Guild. The brewery is using 3rd-party validation to show they take the safety of their employees and customers seriously.

Communicate With Customers

Big, bold, and repeatedly—tell your customers what you are doing.

Use signage and verbal broadcasts in-store. If you follow specific guidelines or certification processes, then make it obvious.

In-store signage should include:

  • Employee/customer safety protocols
  • Logos showing safety certifications
  • Cleaning schedules
  • Signage to help customers social distance (1-way traffic signs, X marks the spot for 6-feet distances at checkout and service counters)

Don’t ignore your digital communication channels. Broadcast what you’re doing on your website, social media, and via emails. Create an FAQ that includes information about your supply chain, your safety practices, and the potential risks to your customers.

Let customers know how you are protecting your employees. Questions to answer include:

  • Are employees screened before they come on-site?
  • Have you addressed the risk of how employees are traveling to work (e.g., public transportation)?
  • Does your leave policy enable sick employees to stay home?
  • How often are employees required to wash their hands?

And make communication a 2-way street. Poll your customers to see how you can make them feel safer.

Show Off Your Cleaning Methods

Seeing is believing—let your customers see you cleaning. Those sanitation tasks you used to do out of sight? Bring those tasks to the front and show them off. For example, American Eagle now disinfects fitting room door handles and fixtures in front of the customer before permitting access.

Tell your customers how returned or tried-on items are sanitized. Target’s Safe Retail guidelines have temporarily implemented a no-return policy. Other retailers, like Amazon, are extending their return policy deadlines. Rent the Runway, a clothing rental company, details how it’s cleaning process covers COVID-19 concerns. Some stores put clothing that has been tried on in a 24-hour hold. Others are exploring the use of new cleaning options, including ozone-based technology or ultraviolet lights. While zero-returns or cutting-edge sanitation technology may be out of reach for your business, make it known what you are doing.

Limit Customer Exposure

Basic Safety Measures

Make the basic CDC recommendations—wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining a 6-foot distance—easy for in-store customers. Establish social distancing signage like arrows and signs to direct 1-way traffic flow and tape on the floor showing 6-feet distances. Consider having dedicated employees available to encourage best practices.

Small business owners can use low-tech solutions to limit contact between employees and customers. An independent pharmacy in Ohio put folding tables in front of the pharmacy counter to enforce the 6-feet rule. To eliminate direct contact and bridge the divide, a hand-basket with a rope tied on either side is used to transfer small purchases and prescriptions between customers and the store clerk.

Be prepared to change your signage as behaviors normalize. Shoppers in China view wearing a mask as a step beyond normal—it’s a sign of respect.

Decrease In-Store Time

Help your customers get in and get out. The less time they spend in-store, the safer many customers will feel.

A McKinsey Institute report shows:

  • Customers plan to continue to use buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS). Boost your delivery and BOPIS options.
  • Chinese customers are consolidating their shopping trips—fewer trips, more items. Customize your online shopping experience and your physical layout to encourage that.
  • Virtual software can replace some in-store experiences. A sales associate can offer personalized advice via a videoconference. Software allows customers to try on a product before buying. Much like you can upload a picture of your room to sample paint colors, you can do the same for jewelry and clothing.

During the pandemic, many stores limited early morning hours to high-risk groups. Consider adapting that idea to offer appointment-only times for those who want to decrease their exposure.

Encourage Hands-Off

Do whatever you can to reduce touchpoints.

Some options include:

Encouraging safe shopping will evolve as guidelines change and customers’ needs unfold. What isn’t normal now will normalize over time. Take a deep breath and settle in for an ongoing conversation with your customers about what they need to feel safe in their shopping experience with you.


Katherine O'Malley

Katherine O'Malley is a contributor to the Lendio blog. A technology geek at heart, she splits her time between traveling, freelance writing, database administration work, and implementing SEO on her travel blog. In her free time, she loves to research the challenges small-to-midsize tourist suppliers face and find ways that technology can help them out.