More than a year into the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 has impacted many industries. Though countless have experienced great loss, the retail industry was hit particularly hard.
As states locked down early in the pandemic, businesses of all sizes had to close. One report counted over 12,000 stores closing in the U.S. in 2020 – over 2,000 more stores than 2019.1
Despite vaccines becoming more readily available and state restrictions lifting, retail closures may still be on the horizon. Another research group estimates that there’ll be an additional 10,000 store closures in 2021.2
COVID-19 did reveal a change in one part of the retail industry. As COVID-19 drove store closures in the U.S., more people turned to online shopping. E-commerce sales were over $791 billion in 2020 – up 32.4% from 2019.3
Some businesses that closed during the peak of the pandemic have the opportunity to open again. It’s a chance for retail business owners to create new expectations and operating models.
We’ve put together three best practices that you can use to reopen your retail business.
Review Your Retail Business’ Continuity Plan
As you start to reopen your retail business, check your continuity plan to make sure any restoration or recovery processes are implemented. This includes:
If your continuity plan includes checklists, be sure to follow them. You’ll likely want to reach out to key partners for your retail business, like:
Take the Time to Protect Your Retail Property
Doing your due diligence to protect your retail property is an essential part of having a successful reopening. Your business property can get damaged from many causes. Addressing any issues before you open can help your retail business in the long run.
Before reopening, inspect both the inside and outside of the building. Check for any damage that can cause issues with the building’s structural integrity. This includes looking at the:
- Roof and drainage system
- Walls to make sure there isn’t any pest damage or vandalism
- Landscaping to trim overgrown bushes and plants
- Interior walls and ceilings for wet spots, which can indicate a leak or potential mold damage
Don’t forget to inspect the equipment you use to operate your retail business. Make sure there’s no damage and that everything is in good, working condition. Before you turn any equipment back on, be sure to clean and sanitize it. Double check the maintenance records and perform any overdue work on the equipment before bringing it online.
Water Damage Prevention Planning for Retail Businesses
Water damage is one of the leading causes of loss for businesses. Preventing water intrusion and leaks and taking quick action can reduce the total damage that your retail business faces.
You can complete a vulnerability risk assessment to identify areas that are at higher risk for water intrusion or leaks. Create a water damage prevention plan to address the findings from your business’ assessment.
Fire Protection and Detection in Retail Businesses
It’s important to inspect your building’s fire protection system. You’ll want to test alarms, fire pumps and water supply to ensure the system works properly and can protect your business in case of a fire.
If your system is impaired because you had to drain it to prevent freezing during colder temperatures, flush it to remove obstructions and re-charge the system.
Your retail business should also have enough fire extinguishers available in spaces that customers use, as well as employee-only parts of the building, like the storage room or warehouse.
Retail Business Utilities
A building with good ventilation and air flow can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Before you reopen your retail business, make sure your building’s HVAC system functions properly. It’s a good idea to inspect the different parts of your system, including:
- Fuel or power supply
- Ventilation openings
- Heat exchangers
- Packaged terminal air conditioners
If it’s necessary, work with a qualified vendor to inspect and clean utilities. Boilers, furnaces or cooking equipment, for example, will have to get inspected, cleaned and purged before turning back on.
Make sure you also don’t rush turning circuit breakers back on at your retail business. Taking a systematic approach can help identify any issues and where they are.
Retail Vehicles: Have a Cleaning and Sanitizing Policy
Before you let employees use any vehicles that your business owns, rents or leases, get them inspected by a mechanic. They can fix any issues or perform maintenance work that may be overdue while your vehicles were stagnant.
To keep your drivers safe while they’re using your business’ vehicles, create a cleaning and sanitizing protocol for your fleet. It should outline what sections of the vehicle to clean and disinfect after each shift.
Protect Your Retail Employees and Customers
Although some states have lifted COVID-19 restrictions, certain guidelines and recommendations are likely still in place. Before you open your business, post signs asking your customers to follow current public health protocols, such as social distancing and wearing a mask. List the common COVID-19 symptoms and let them know that they shouldn’t enter your business if they’re experiencing any of them.
Give your employees personal protective equipment (PPE) or make it easily accessible. This can include:
- Face shields
To prevent employees and customers from exchanging credit cards or money, use a no-contact payment method. You can upgrade your point-of-sale systems to allow customers to use their phones or tap their credit card on a reader to pay for transactions.
It’s also a good idea to install temporary barriers in your business to help keep both employees and customers safe. For example, you can put up Plexiglas at cash registers.
If you’re planning to offer curbside pickup at your business, make sure the area has good lighting and a smooth walking surface to prevent falls. Ensure your employees wear PPE and follow public health guidelines.
The priority for your customers is to have an efficient shopping trip and to get in and out as quickly as possible. You can make changes to your business to provide customers with a safe experience by:
- Setting up signs or labeling the floor to direct foot traffic
- Marking the floor to help customers social distance while they’re in the store, especially while standing in line
- Offering hand sanitizer stations throughout the property
You’ll want to make sure any new measures you put in place don’t present a new risk for slips, trips and falls.
Create a Virus Prevention and Response Plan for Your Retail Business
If you don’t have a virus prevention and response plan, it’s not too late to make one. Keep it simple and flexible because guidelines, recommendations and regulations can change. Remember, your plan should be dynamic.
You may also want to work with an attorney to better understand local and federal laws around vaccinations. As more people become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, you may want to encourage employees to get vaccinated. A fully vaccinated workforce is ideal, but laws may prevent employers from requiring workers to get a shot.
Your virus prevention and response plan should also include a cleaning and disinfecting protocol. It’s important to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as:
- Door knobs
- Credit card keypads
Make sure your employees know how to properly use cleaning products and chemicals to prevent any workplace injuries or illnesses.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, knowing what to do is crucial in preventing further infection. To start, you’ll want to ask your employee to isolate for at least 10 days. You’ll likely have to do contact tracing to determine if there are any other close contacts in the workplace. If there are, those workers and customers should quarantine. Make sure you understand your local Department of Public Health guidelines and recommendations for addressing a positive test result.
How The Hartford Can Help As You Reopen Your Retail Business
Nuestra página Ingeniería de riesgo team has technical expertise and can provide results-oriented solutions to help your retail business. We offer:
- Virtual capabilities, like on-site, telephone, email or live video consultations.
- Industrial hygiene to give guidance on safe use and handling of sanitizing and disinfecting chemicals.
- On-demand webinars and training to help business owners run a safe workplace.
- Newsletters filled with best practices and tips.
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1 Fortune, “A Record 12,200 US Stores Closed in 2020 as E-Commerce, Pandemic Changed Retail Forever”