As stores reopen, retailers prioritize safety and keep shopping personal

Small businesses across the nation are leading the way in safe commerce while keeping community in mind

Shelter-in-place regulations from states across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic have meant a transition to contactless shopping to prioritize the health and safety of retailers, their employees and consumers.

But contactless has not meant emotionless, as consumers and retailers continue to build camaraderie while social distancing. As NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in May’s monthly economic review, “Shopping is more than a transaction. It is a social activity that is part of the fabric of American life, making it likely that consumers will want to return to normal shopping habits once the pandemic subsides and the economy fully reopens.”

While stores begin the reopening process, NRF’s Operation Open Doors provides a blueprint to help them operate safely. Large and small retailers across the nation have already begun implementing recommendations from the initiative, including implementing contactless shopping, limiting store visits and allowing sufficient time to sanitize and restock inventory.

“Virtually all guests shopping by appointment have at least made a purchase, and most of them have spent at least twice our average sale amount.”

Morgan Harris, Green Bambino

Rachael Gruntmeir, owner of Black Scintilla boutique in Oklahoma City, has established safety protocols to comply with state mandates.

“We’ve been adjusting store hours every couple of weeks as the situation changes and have added extra sanitizing stations,” she says.

“We are also communicating with our customers a lot more, since not as many are coming into the store. I think staying engaged with them is a big key. We try to let them know what to expect when coming in to shop: hours, guest capacity, cleaning methods, etc.”

Although the coronavirus has slowed most spending outside of essentials, consumers are giving back to their favorite retailers, with almost half making a purchase specifically to support a local business. Here are just a few examples of how retailers across the nation are leading the way in safe commerce while keeping community in mind.

Shopping by appointment

At baby retailer Green Bambino in Oklahoma City, owner Morgan Harris prepared the store for safe shopping by widening displays and aisles and marking the floors with social distancing stickers. Shoppers can sign up for one appointment slot per hour, and must wear masks and wash hands before browsing. Harris says setting appointments helps emphasize expectations of safety and allows customers more time to make more purchases.

“We’ve had several customers let us know they aren’t comfortable going inside other retail establishments yet, and came to Green Bambino because they knew they’d be shopping alone,” Harris says. “Virtually all guests shopping by appointment have at least made a purchase, and most of them have spent at least twice our average sale amount.

“Private shopping appointments have been so successful that I’m working on ideas for how to keep them as part of our ‘new normal.’”

Do-it-yourself kits

A self-proclaimed “curator of happiness,” Tesoro Beverly Hills and Tweak owner Tara Riceberg hopes her stores’ boredom busters like puzzles, games and stay-at-home-summer-camp art activities offer support to customers who are seeking an escape from the mundane.

“I’ve determined that my retail strategy is distant, but not disconnected,” she says. “I’ve been FaceTime shopping with customers and texting lots of gift ideas. What I’ve discovered is this is a more intimate way to connect with my customers, which really has strengthened our relationships.”

Retailers offering items that bring consumers comfort in store are finding unique ways to replicate that experience for consumers at home. At Master’s Hand candle company and gift shop in Tekamah, Neb., owner Susie Robison says sales of comfort food have risen significantly and the store is ramping up production.

“I’ve determined that my retail strategy is distant, but not disconnected.”

Tara Riceberg, Tesoro Beverly Hills and Tweak

The store’s dining rooms that once served customers have been turned into individual workspaces, allowing employees to distance themselves across the 10,000-square-foot building. “What was once a six-foot area we had for packing orders to be shipped turned into a 40-foot length of countertop completely dedicated to packing and shipping,” Robison says.

The shop has been spreading joy through its various care packages, including a cookie kit, chocolate kit and DIY floral-arranging kit, which consumers can gift or enjoy with their families.

“Most online orders that have come in for the “Sending Joy” care packages and the various kits have been ordered by one person and sent to another person they loved and wanted to cheer up, even if they could no longer see and hug them,” Robison says.

Black Scintilla also hopes to spread joy from a distance through DIY craft kits to entertain adults and children while at home. “In March we had a shelter-in-place [order] issued. Once that took place people were at home and had more free time on their hands. So, we began carrying a lot of DIY craft kits: adult paint by number, weaving, cross stitch, birdhouse building and gem art kits for kids,” Gruntmeir says.

Social media engagement

Elizabeth Ward Creel, owner of high-end retailer Elizabeth W Boutique in Dallas, is sharing her retail expertise through virtual style consultations on social media. Creel has launched a Facebook Live and IGTV segment where she interviews designers and influencers to learn new ways to build their brands in the midst of the pandemic. Her boutique is also donating a portion of sales to a charity each month.

Store employee hands curbside pickup purchases through car window
The Green Bambino in Oklahoma City offers in-store appointments as well as curbside pick up.

Besides prioritizing safety and social distancing, Green Bambino’s social media presence has offered consumers insight on what products are available in store that they can quickly acquire via curbside pickup. Harris began hosting a daily pop-up “patio shopping” shop outside the Green Bambino, featuring different brands and categories of products that consumers can browse from a distance on the store’s Facebook page. 

“We were able to pivot pretty quickly to having zero customers inside the store and meeting our customers’ needs through live video on social media, sending text messages and calling folks to see how they were doing and how we could help, building custom Easter and Mother’s Day bundles via messaging apps, etc.,” Harris says.

“Green Bambino’s success is built on relationships with our customers, so however they want to talk to us, we’ll communicate that way.”

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