How to Open Retail Stores Safely during COVID-19

Topics: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Retail stores across the country are slowly preparing to get back to business as usual. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new normal will look very different from the shopping days of the past. Employees may be ready to start stocking shelves, and customers may be looking forward to hitting the malls for some retail therapy, but taking steps to ensure everyone’s health and safety is essential to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Some states have started the process of reopening businesses and have implemented procedures to help reduce the risk of a surge in new cases and to protect the vulnerable populations and employees, including retail workers.


Welcoming Employees and Customers Back to Retail Stores Safely

Some types of retail stores remained open since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, did not shut down, allowing customers to purchase items like food, medications and toiletries.

However, so many other retailers have been anxiously awaiting the day they can welcome customers back into their stores. From large retail operations like shopping malls to small, specialty boutiques on Main Street, reopening stores will give the economy a much-needed boost – as long as it can be done safely. No matter the size of the store, the priority for all retailers should be the health and safety of the employees and the customers.

The National Retail Federation offers guidance for retailers on reopening stores with their Operation Open Doors Checklist and a variety of other helpful resources. These guidelines follow CDC recommendations and are based on what has worked for essential retailers that remained open.

Retail stores should review the specific guidelines issued by the state and local governments in which they operate and consult with their legal counsel about how to safely reopen. Here are some suggestions for how retail stores can prepare to reopen over the next several weeks and months:

Create a return to work plan

Before opening, retail stores should develop a robust plan for reopening. The Operation Open Doors Checklist details the issues business owners need to consider, including:
  • Creating a return to work schedule for employees
  • Updating policies and procedures
  • Cleaning and preparing the location to open
  • Installing signage, floor markings and protective shields
  • Sourcing additional supplies

Establish a protocol for screening for COVID-19

Work with HR and legal counsel to create measures for screening employees for the coronavirus. This plan may include regular temperature screenings and monitoring their overall health. If any employees show symptoms of the virus, they should be sent them home immediately or be isolated from other workers and customers. Remember that employee health information is subject to federal and state privacy laws.

Continue to offer delivery or curbside pickup

Some customers may not feel safe visiting retail stores in person for a while. Many retailers, like grocery stores, have created options that provide contactless pickup and in-home deliveries, which allows for a limited amount of employees on location to fulfill orders and deliver purchases. This option helps maintain social distancing protocols designed to keep employees and customers safe. Consider allowing customers to place orders online with the options of picking up their items outside or home delivery for the foreseeable future.

“Finding ways to limit store traffic is counterintuitive to traditional retail models designed to do the opposite,” says Jeff Corder, VP Loss Control at AmTrust. “But techniques such as curbside pickup with online payments can create a safer and relatively contactless experience. This can be a differentiator, as customers seek the security of safe partners to do business with. And if you have online tech limitations, let your markets know that you’ll happily take their orders by email and phone, and accommodate various ways to pay ahead to limit customer interaction.”

Adhere to social distancing and occupancy rules

As customers are allowed back into the stores, maintaining proper social distancing and occupancy levels will be vital in helping prevent the spread of the virus. Whenever possible, employees should remain at least six feet apart, and break rooms or lunchrooms should be rearranged to allow for space between the workers. Place signage throughout the store to adjust the flow of customers in certain areas, especially smaller, closed-off spaces and aisles.

Require infection control measures among employees and customers

Employees should be mandated to wash their hands frequently or use sanitizer several times throughout the workday. Some business owners may also choose to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), like face masks or gloves – some states may require this step for stores to reopen, too.

Additionally, retailers should consider taking extra measures to stop the spread of the virus, for instance, removing testers for perfume or other items and closing fitting rooms. Store hours can also be altered to help support social distancing efforts and limit the amount of traffic coming through their doors.

Increase cleaning and sanitization efforts

Implement a regular cleaning schedule that includes disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces and items throughout the store. Countertops, cash registers, shopping carts and baskets, door and drawer handles, PIN pads, light switches, store fixtures, and tools shared by employees like pricing guns should all be cleaned frequently throughout the workday. Hand sanitizer can also be provided at various high traffic areas in the store for customers and employee use, especially by entrances and checkout counters.

Provide regular employee training

Help employees stay safe by offering a variety of coronavirus training programs. Training should include information about:
  • Social distancing guidelines
  • How to monitor their health
  • The process for reporting any COVID-19 symptoms and what to do if they experience these symptoms
  • How to properly wear and dispose of PPE
  • Keeping their PPE and clothing or uniforms clean
  • The cleaning and sanitization efforts needed to ensure the workers’ and customers’ health is kept top of mind

AmTrust is Here for Our Retail Insureds as They Get Ready to Reopen

Retail is one of the key industries AmTrust writes, and our Loss Control department helps provide safety resources to help minimalize injuries, incidents and control costs. Additionally, AmTrust is here to help with a library of resources regarding the coronavirus to help our appointed agents and small business insured stay informed, safe and healthy throughout these difficult times. For more information about our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal, tax or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is accurate, appropriate or suitable for any specific business, tax or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business, tax and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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