15 Tips to Succeed as Brick-and-Mortar Retail Reopens

Hopefully, by the time you are reading this your region is making progress against COVID-19. If not, it’s never too early to prepare for that eventuality.

The fact is that brick-and-mortar retail—and the economy as a whole—will start to churn again. In fact, your business may already be tasked with reopening its physical doors to eager customers, but there will still be a lot of uncertainty about how to do this effectively and safely. On top of that, local and national governments will have their own guidelines and requirements for organizations at this time.

We don’t know what the future holds, nor do we want you to disregard the counsel of the government and medical experts. However, we do know a little bit about retail, and we’ve compiled the following list of tips and tricks to help you navigate the difficult task of reopening your business in the wake of COVID-19.

Keep reading to check out our 15 tips.

Tip No. 1: Communicate with Customers

Importantly, your customers must know what is going on with your store hours. One of the first things you need to do before opening is to send out as many messages as possible to your shoppers. Let them know the date and time you will reopen, plus any changes to your hours and safety measures you’re implementing to comply with local or national laws. Log on to social media, buy advertisements, post notes on your door, and spread the word that you’re coming back.

man in black crew neck t-shirt sitting on brown wooden chair

Tip No. 2: Be Transparent About Changes

Few people expect everything to go back to normal immediately after you open again. There will be changes in how you operate. Make sure you’re transparent about what is going and why you are changing. Maybe you’re moving around registers to give people space or capping the number of occupants in your store. Perhaps you reduced your hours or installed hand sanitizer at the entrances. No matter what, let the people know what and why you’re doing. This will help prepare everyone for when they do come back.

Tip No. 3: Talk to Merchandisers About Displays

One of the first things you need to do is to chat with your merchandisers about any physical displays. Make sure everyone knows the plan—and is able to execute that plan—to ensure that you’ve got merchandiser support when you need it. You want your merchandisers on board with your strategy and ready to enter your locations to set up any displays as shoppers come back.

Tip No. 4: Use Promotions and Markdowns to Move Seasonal Inventory

COVID-19 has caused many brands and retailers to put their seasonal campaigns on hold, from holiday-themed inventory to displays. Instead, a lot of that has been left sitting in the back of stores or warehouses and needs to go somewhere once you open again. We recommend using promotions and markdowns to move that inventory quickly. Run one-off marketing campaigns to raise awareness and drop the prices wherever possible to get that inventory moving.

man in grey crew-neck t-shirt smiling to woman on counter

Tip No. 5: Lean Into Omnichannel Retail

One interesting development to come out of COVID-19 has been the shift to online retail from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. This is something that doesn’t have to go away once stores open again. In fact, retailers should continue to emphasize multiple channels to continue to drive sales. One reason is that consumers have gotten used to shopping online even more than they already were. Curbside pickup in categories like grocery could remain popular even after things go back to normal. Retailers might find a greater desire among shoppers for other BOPIS-type options, plus continued demand for fast shipping, large assortments, and multiple paths to purchase.

Tip No. 6: Make Sure Your Website is Great

On a related note, your online presence needs to be tip-top for your in-store presence to succeed post-COVID-19. This ties into all of the tips listed here, whether you need to announce a promotion, a change to store operations, or simply to sell online. Your website must be strong. Start by giving it a broad look to check for any weird branding issues or outdated information. Then, get deeper to make sure that the user journey is seamless. You don’t want website visitors distracted from what you want them to do. Then get technical to make sure everything underneath the hood is working properly.

group of people around laptop computer

Tip No. 7: Don’t Go Off-Brand

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, but it doesn’t need to change who you are as a brand. Everything you do to reopen after the virus can be done in-line with your brand image in mind. That means any messages are said in your voice. Any changes to store operations still work with who you are. Any promotions or markdowns match with what you’ve done in the past. Don’t sacrifice who you are as a company in your quest to reopen. Instead, lean into your identity to provide something to ground customers and remind them of why they liked you in the first place.

Tip No. 8: Don’t Do Too Much Too Quickly

Odds are, the government and health officials will ensure stores don’t pose a risk to the public. This will likely be one of the first criteria as we reopen. That said, though, it’s worth mentioning that you shouldn’t do too much too quickly as you open back up. That means change only what you have to. Perhaps you had a campaign in mind before COVID-19 that would be better saved for later. Don’t relax health standards right away. Introduce new measures in little doses to ease people into the new normal and also ease the burden on your staff to prepare everything for post-COVID-19 retail.

Tip No. 9: Take to Heart Lessons of COVID-19

Even though plenty has changed, people are eager to get back to the way things were. However, it’s good to take to heart the lessons of COVID-19. Steps like washing hands and wearing face coverings, or limiting the number of people inside a store at one time, might be good things to keep around for later. It will be easy to forget what we did during the outbreak. Retailers might be better prepared for the future if they keep protective measures in place and don’t give in to the temptation to make their stores look exactly like they did before the virus.

woman standing at food counter

Tip No. 10: Keep an Open Mind

No idea is too out-there, too crazy, for our post-COVID-19 life. As an organization, you might have once been reluctant to try a tactic, run a promotion, or stock a product. Now, though, it could be exactly what your business needs to get running again. Therefore, keep an open mind about any ideas that you hear. Explore options a bit outside your comfort zone and maybe take an extra risk or two that you normally wouldn’t.

Tip No. 11: Join COVID-19 Conversations

It will be a long time before COVID-19 fades from the public discourse. People will be talking about it for years to come. One option for your business to get back into the fold is to join into those conversations in places you otherwise wouldn’t. Again, make sure to stick to your brand guidelines, but it could help to chime in on social media, share COVID-19 changes you’ve made with the public, or offer any resources or help to people on the front lines of the fight against the virus.

Tip No. 12: Promote Products That Make an Impact Right Now

COVID-19 has changed consumer demand. At the onset, there was the panic-buying surge to grab as much toilet paper as possible. Beyond that, though, demand has increased in certain areas—like home improvement, consumer electronics, and home exercise equipment—and decreased in others. See what’s in demand in your market and promote those products first, even if it means shelving a different promotion. Give the people what they want!

three people sitting in front of table laughing together

Tip No. 13: Test Free Trials or Giveaways

Everybody loves to get something for free, and a free option could be exactly what your business needs as it reopens. For example, you might remove the paywall to access a feature or service. Or, you can donate or give away excess inventory instead of simply marking it down. Not only is this a good strategy to clear out inventory, but it also generates goodwill or raises awareness for your business. All of this can help drive customers back to your stores.

Tip No. 14: Give a Little Wiggle Room

Depending on your business model, you might have contracts, terms of service, or other binding documents with customers. After COVID-19, it could be a good idea to relax the terms on these to entice shoppers back to your business. When and how you do this will be on a very case-by-case basis, but it could also show them that you care and are willing to be flexible. Plus, shorter-term contracts or something similar could be more appealing to people as they also figure out how to operate in our post-COVID-19 world. You accept a little bit more uncertainty in exchange for more customers.

Tip No. 15: Please Ask For Help

Lastly, there’s no shame in asking for a bit of help as you figure out how to succeed and grow again. This might mean asking your partners, vendors, suppliers, and the like for delayed payments. Maybe you ask them to help you find other ways to cut costs while you get back on your feet. The bottom line is that it doesn’t hurt to ask for help at this time. Even if they say no, at least you tried.

Importantly, you’re not alone as you figure out how to get back to normal. Everyone else is going through something similar as well, and this can provide good lessons for your business. Keep an eye on the competition and, again, don’t be afraid to simply ask what others are doing to reopen their stores after COVID-19. Better times are coming soon!

If you want to learn more, download our free whitepaper, Retail Post-Pandemic: 6 Store Conditions Consumer Brands Need To Monitor.

Matt Ellsworth

Matt is the Sr. Manager, Marketing & Demand at Wiser, the leading provider of actionable data for better decisions.

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