By Kayla Matthews
The Canadian retail sector, like many others, has been tremendously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many physical stores forced to close or adopt new ways of operating, retailers must remain adaptable. Here are six tips to boost resiliency during these challenging circumstances:
1. Give People New Ways to Get Their Goods
Many brands operating in Canada, including Preston Hardware and Home Depot, fall into the non-essential services category, meaning they cannot serve in-store guests.
However, they’ve adapted to drive retail sales in COVID-19 times. Curbside pickup and delivery are two perks some retailers offer. Some that formerly charged for delivery provide it for free to make their goods more accessible to those who want to buy them.
When assessing which services to offer, retailers should put safety at the forefront. For example, they should train delivery drivers on how to do their jobs while maintaining social distancing guidelines. They could also implement a system where a customer allows a store worker to sign for the receipt of goods on their behalf to prevent exchanging paperwork or electronic gadgets.
2. Consider Offering Different Payment Options — But Don’t Stop Accepting Cash
Research indicates the COVID-19 virus can survive on some surfaces for days, causing health officials to recommend limiting physical touch. Many retailers have started urging people to pay with contactless options, such as through mobile apps.
It’s okay for retailers to explore how to reduce physical contact during the exchange of money. However, they should remain mindful that choosing to stop accepting cash causes hardships for people who don’t have other options.
The Bank of Canada recently released a statement on the matter. It featured a quote from Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease doctor and scientist. He clarified, “We can find ways to ensure that all Canadians have access to essential goods and services, even if they are using cash. Risk can be mitigated in retail settings using a variety of methods, including ensuring access to hand hygiene for all employees.”
If cashiers wear gloves at their stations — plus have alcohol-based hand cleaner — those things can keep workers safer between the moments they wash their hands during breaks. Moreover, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as credit card readers and self-checkout screens protects customers when they choose to pay with methods other than cash.
3. Keep Customers Well-Informed About Any Operational Changes
Due to the substantial changes and restrictions affecting everyday life, some customers may assume the Canadian retail branches they usually visit have shut down. It’s imperative for businesses that are still operating to be transparent with the public and inform them about the scope of services offered.
For example, the Canadian Tire department store did that by creating a dedicated hub on its website for all COVID-19 information. It has a FAQ section, as well as regular updates from the brand’s CEO. The information covered ranges from new operating hours to the company’s recently launched pickup service. It also clarifies what happens at each location to safeguard employee health — plus the procedures they enact after a worker tests positive for the coronavirus.
Retail sales in the COVID-19 landscape are different by necessity, and customers appreciate knowing what’s new. They want assurances that retailers have taken all the appropriate precautions and are operating thoughtfully during these unprecedented times.
4. Offer an Instant Messaging Service to Streamline Communications
Clear and up-to-date communications are now more important than ever. Dedicated products exist to facilitate communication with team members via instant messaging as the coronavirus crisis unfolds. Additionally, customer-facing instant message platforms give brands a quick way to reach out to shoppers.
The pandemic means many people are re-evaluating their shopping behaviours. A survey published in mid-March by Angus Reid/Dalhousie University found 71% of Canadians were generally concerned about the coronavirus outbreak. The research also showed that, for 65% of people, the concern extended to grocery store risks. However, the poll indicated only 3% had shopped online, while 5% asked someone else to buy goods for them.
However, those numbers have likely risen in the several weeks since the survey’s publication. That’s especially likely because guidance from Canada’s leaders tells residents to stay home as much as possible. Older people are at a heightened risk for coronavirus complications, and many may need extra help while shopping online. An instant message service lets retailers reach out to any individual that has questions or worries about buying goods digitally.
When people get the assistance they need right away, the likelihood that they might get frustrated and not go through with their purchases goes down. An instant message service also enables shoppers to ask questions that could influence their purchasing decisions, such as inquiries about shipping speeds, available shipping, and stock levels.
5. Hire Professionals to Advise How to Keep Stores Safe
Since COVID-19 is a new coronavirus, it has pushed retailers into wholly new territory as they determine how to maintain safe environments for workers and shoppers. Many stores now have markings on the floors to show people where to stand as they wait in lines. Others have installed thick, clear shields between cashiers and customers.
There’s arguably a better chance of retail sales in COVID-19-affected areas remaining high if brands get trustworthy guidance about what changes to make. Walmart Canada took that approach by tasking Michael Gill to redesign more than 400 Walmart stores in Canada. Gill focuses on front-end tweaks that prevent the virus from spreading to customers and staff.
Self-checkout attendants touch screens with a stylus instead of their fingers, while guests follow bright arrows on the floor made with tape from the hardware department. Moreover, the chain temporarily ceased selling bulk food items and put tarps over the large bins that usually hold such goods.
Now is not the time for Canadian retail brands to make haphazard guesses about safety. Once customers see companies taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously, they’ll be eager to continue giving those organizations their business.
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thank you to everyone who has helped us spread the word! We have donated over 30,000 shoes & socks to date – let’s keep it going!! 🙏🏻 Our team is doing everything we can to support the doctors, nurses & medical staff who are risking their lives to keep us safe 💘 Ardene is donating women’s comfy sneakers and socks to hospitals across Canada for those who are on the front line fighting COVID-19. Tag a front line hero in the comments below to spread the word & help make a difference. Merci à tout le monde qui aide à passer le message! Nous avons donné plus de 30 000 paires de chaussures et chaussettes à date… on lâche pas!! 🙏🏻 Notre équipe fait tout pour soutenir les médecins, infirmières et personnel médical qui risquent leurs vies pour notre santé 💘 Ardène donne des chaussures et chaussettes confos pour femmes dans des hôpitaux à travers le Canada pour ceux et celles en première ligne contre la COVID-19. Tag un héros dans les commentaires pour faire passer le mot et faire une différence #ardenelove #ardenecares #stayinginwithardene
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✨UPDATE ✨thank you to everyone who has helped us spread the word! We have donated 7,000 pairs to date – let’s keep it going!! 🙏🏻 Our team is doing everything we can to support the doctors, nurses & medical staff who are risking their lives to keep us safe 💘 Ardene is donating women’s sneakers and socks to hospitals across Canada for those who are on the front line fighting COVID-19. Tag a front line hero in the comments below to spread the word & help make a difference. ————————————————————————— Notre équipe fait tout pour supporter les médecins, infirmières et le personnel médical qui risquent leurs vies pour nous garder en sécurité. 💘 Ardène donne des espadrilles pour femmes et des chaussettes aux hôpitaux à travers le Canada pour celles au premier rang du combat contre le COVID-19. Tag un héros de la première ligne de défense dans les commentaires afin de faire passer le message et pour faire une différence. #ardenecares #ardenelove #cavabienaller
6. Use Resources to Help Others When Possible
These are tough times for everyone, and many retailers are figuring out how to stay afloat despite the uncertainty. It’s crucial to show customers they’re supporting the community in whichever ways possible.
For example, Ardene is a Canadian fashion brand that donated 30,000 pairs of shoes to medical workers by the end of March and planned to give many more. Those employees need to change their shoes and socks several times a day to avoid contamination, a representative of the brand said. The company is also giving clothes to women’s shelters around the country and donating $1 from every online purchase to a youth well-being charity.
COVID-19 forced Ardene to close its physical stores temporarily. Even so, the company is making a difference and remaining relevant in these trying times. Such actions show consumers that a brand is well worth supporting.
Practical Tips for Canadian Retail and Beyond
Although all the examples here were from Canadian brands, retailers around the world can apply them to keep retail sales steady. Proactive responses make businesses better able to recover and prosper.
Kayla Matthews is a researcher, writer and blogger covering topics related to technology, smart gadgets, the future of work and personal productivity. She is the owner and editor of ProductivityTheory.com and ProductivityBytes.com. Previously, Kayla was a senior writer at MakeUseOf and contributing freelancer to Digital Trends. Kayla’s work on smart homes and consumer tech has also been featured on Houzz, Dwell, Inman and Curbed. Additionally, her work has appeared on Quartz, PRNewswire, The Week, The Next Web, Lifehacker, Mashable, The Daily Dot, WIRED and others.