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Here are six steps to follow in preparing for the post-COVID retail spring

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As lockdown restrictions begin to ease across Australia, retailers in towns, cities and rural areas across the country will start to think of the steps they must take in preparation for a return to ‘business as usual’.

However, the timing and manner of restriction easing differs from one state to the next, meaning that while stores in certain areas may be on the verge of reopening, others will still have to be patient and operate with restrictions such as the number of shoppers allowed inside.

Regardless of where your store is located, preparing for its reopening should be done sooner rather than later to ensure you have the best chance of hitting the ground running when the retail spring dawns. Here are some steps to consider ticking off the list before opening up your doors again.

Confirm your state government’s guidelines

Despite the federal government recently announcing their three-stage plan towards resuming normal operations, each state government is setting its own timeline.

So, before you rush to raise your shutters and dust off your shop floor, it’s important to first confirm that your local government has given the all clear to reopen your store in the first place.

Visit their website or give them a call to determine whether your store can do business again, and make sure to confirm any dates and additional measures you need to comply with.

Reassemble your team

Your staff are some of your business’ most important assets, and you’ll find it difficult to reopen without them. So ensure they’re kept in the loop with any important changes taking place in the coming weeks, such as state government guidance on when it’s safe to reopen.

First of all, confirm the list of employees that will be working in the stores, and get in touch with them to see whether they’re healthy and available to work. You may find that your employees are a little more dispersed than usual, so do this as early as possible so you can make alternative arrangements if some members of your team can’t yet return.

Once you know who’s available and willing to go back to work, map out their rosters and distribute using a cloud-based system, such as Deputy, so everyone is on the same page.

Understand your inventory

When your stores closed or your operations went online, it’s likely you’ll have moved some or all of your products from your store. Before you can even begin to think about selling, you’ll need to understand what you have in stock, where it is, and how to get it back onto rails and shelves ready for your customers.

What’s more, with seasons changing during lockdown, you might have to replace your summer stock with something a little more warm and autumnal as winter approaches. To ensure your shop is stocked with the right merch and products for the upcoming season, first get a handle on what you currently have on-hand by conducting a physical stock count and compare it side-by-side with your stock control system.

Once you have confirmed the stock you have on-hand, run product performance reports to determine which items to sell and promote in the coming months. Vend’s high-powered point of sale software can help you develop a deep holistic understanding of what you have in stock, and what might be in demand when customers return to your shop.

Admittedly, there has been a big shift in consumer spending over the past few weeks, but by taking a look at what people were purchasing at the same time last year, and combining this with online search trends and social media data, you can stock your store with potentially in-demand products.

Many retailers have noted that inventory orders, particularly those coming from overseas, might be delayed due to the pandemic (many countries have not fared as well as Australia has), so you might have to allocate time to find replacement suppliers.

Power up your store and its tech

To ensure that your store runs smoothly once its doors are back open, make sure that all the necessary services, supplies, and technologies are up and running. Save yourself some stress down the track by ensuring you call the utility companies in advance to ensure that your electricity, water, landline and internet connections are in working order before you reopen.

Also, make sure your POS and retail management systems are good to go so you can process sales and serve customers efficiently. We know the last few months have been tough, that’s why we created LoveLocalRetail, a coalition of the biggest names in the retail industry including Google, Prospa, Afterpay, BigCommerce and Marsello, powered by Vend.

It’s an all-in-one resource where retailers can access free and heavily discounted software, assistance, support and sage advice related to everything from successfully digitising their retail operations to navigating government legislation, so consider taking a look to see what might be useful for your business.

It’s not just the technical requirements that need double checking, but also your physical store arrangements. Revamp your in-store and window displays with attractive arrangements of your newest clothing line or products. Bear in mind that social distancing may force your store fixtures and shelves to be positioned further apart to encourage people to stay at least 1.5 meters away from each other.

Implement appropriate health and safety measures

To ensure both your staff and customers are protected and feel comfortable in your store, it will be important to put a number of health and safety measures in place.

Signage, both inside and outside the store, that reminds customers to go home if they’re feeling sick, any changes to your policies, or reminders about physical distancing are a great idea. Also consider adding markers or decals on your floor, particularly near the checkout counter, so people know where to stand in line.

If possible, give customers access to hand sanitisers and wipes, so they can clean their hands, baskets, and shopping carts in your store. Ensuring that both customers and employees have access to plenty of hand sanitiser and other protective equipment like masks and gloves will help limit the chances of catching the illness.

Also consider putting processes in place to frequently clean any high-touch areas to maximise store sanitation. It’s also worth considering limiting the number of customers who are allowed in your store at any one time, as well as limiting access to fitting rooms to promote physical distancing.

While restrictions are easing and the curve is flattening it’s still imperative to be vigilant. After all, if your customers don’t feel safe in your store, they’ll likely go somewhere they do.

Spread the word

Once your store is reopened for business, you’ll want to be driving awareness and foot traffic through the door. To start, it’s imperative to communicate with your customers to let them know that you’re open, what you’ve been up to, and why they should come back to visit.

Utilise multiple communication channels, including email, SMS, and social media to make sure that customers don’t miss your updates. Tell them about your latest range, exciting updates or anything else that makes you proud about your business.

While we’d all love a handbook on the “Dummies guide to post-COVID life”, it’s still about being cautious, considered and most importantly safe, as you prepare to reopen. Whether it’s days, weeks or even longer, no one has an exact timeline on exactly when the retail spring will arrive.

However, it’s never too early to prepare, or at least to start thinking about what your store might look like once the pandemic passes and you’re ready to reopen and offer delightful retail experiences once again.

Dave Scheine is the APAC Managing Director at Vend

Dave Scheine is the APAC Managing Director at Vend
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