The COVID-19 crisis has hit retailers hard. Those that are still in operation and are planning to open soon are quickly adapting to protect their customers and employees. Many of these are short-term procedural changes (retail stores, distribution centers, etc.) while others will require a total “re-think” of not only processes but also systems and devices that are customer and employee-facing.
To understand these changes, let’s first highlight a few recommendations by the CDC and WHO and what retailers are doing to address them.
Maintaining a Six Feet Distance Between People
Simple changes are being observed worldwide such as marking specific spots on the floor with tape at a distance of 6 feet. This is especially helpful with entry, cashier or customer service queues. Also, the maximum occupancy for a given store has been reduced in some cases and supported by door greeters and/or automatic people counting devices to enforce this.
Implementing Infection Protection Measures
Good hand hygiene is one of the most important actions to reduce the spread of the virus. Retailers are providing disinfectant wipes for shopping carts and other common touchpoints. In the long-term, retailers must learn from the healthcare industry that has always addressed this issue. An innovative solution by HITactics uses BlueTooth sensors/tags and mobile apps, and has proved to be particularly effective in hospitals. This technology is context-aware and provides audible reminders to staff to enforce a higher level of compliance to handwashing protocols.
Minimize Face-to-Face Contact and Activities Requiring Physical Touch
The checkout is a high-risk process and companies are looking at how to enhance safety at this touchpoint. Many grocery retailers have quickly implemented a clear Plexiglas divider to segregate the space around the customer and the cashier. Retailers that have been slow to take up contactless payment with physical credit cards or with ApplePay or GooglePay are now expediting the implementation of these technologies to further improve the “no-touch” environment.
Revamp Policies and Procedures with On-Going Training
Frequent and sustained training on the changes to procedures is required throughout this transition. New digital technology and platforms will provide a single view of what is expected, how employees and their management can protect themselves and react quickly to changes. All this supported by Change Management principals will help to deal with these anxieties during the transition.
Generous Leave Policies for Affected Employees
Employees should not feel forced to come to work motivated by the fear of unemployment or lost wages. An affected person can spread the virus at the workplace resulting in bigger losses. Eliminating this fear will go a long way in aligning the interests of the retailers and the employees while dealing with the situation.
While the points discussed above focus on operations at a retailer’s physical location, efforts are also being made to accelerate their digital presence to serve customers directly at their homes This is another aspect of retail operations that require a total “re-think” of how it can be enabled and accelerated.
In summary, change has never been more dramatic for the retail industry than now. For companies that “seize the day” and take the initiative to “virus-proof” their operations will emerge stronger when we all come out of this downturn.
Karl has over 30 years of experience focused around implementing change and leveraging digital technologies in consulting, retail and technology industries. He has worked with a wide range of companies in North America, Asia, and Europe. His expertise involves using digital capabilities to reimagine business models, leveraging analytics and data models to drive labor productivity and designing and streamlining store, distribution center, and salesforce operations. He is a graduate in Industrial engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and has previously worked with Cognizant, Oracle and Home Depot among others.