In this unprecedented time, thousands of retailers have closed stores indefinitely, and furloughed or laid off workers to slow the spread of the virus.
Behind the scenes, these same retailers are handling complex operations around store closures, concerns about loss prevention, and deciphering the impact of disruption to their merchandise planning and supply chains.
How do retailers bring their stores back online after being closed for weeks or months? How does HQ bring their field teams up to speed quickly with the latest promotions, floorsets and marketing campaigns? Most importantly, how does HQ ensure that store teams feel supported, safe and cared for?
Working across different types of retail, we want to share the clear picture we’re seeing of how to address current challenges, and the challenges in the months ahead as things return to normal.
At the moment, store closures look different for every retailer. Stores deemed “essential” businesses, such as grocery, pharmacy, and telecoms, are working to scale hours and staffing up to meet demands, while “nonessential” businesses are following the requirement set by local jurisdictions. We’ve encountered the following scenarios with our partners:
- All stores closed for an indefinite period
- 80% of the chain closed with the remainder open based on state laws
- Stores used as warehouses with products sold curbside
- Retail call centers closed and stores converted into “essential” customer service centers
These are all unique challenges that demand individual solutions. There is no one-sized-fits-all approach. As Retail leaders formulate business continuity plans to get their stores open, here are some points to consider.
1. Care of Your Associates. The health and well-being of your employees is your number one priority. During this time of crisis, everyone is dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity about the future. Bringing associates back to work and asking them to put the store back together can put additional stress on an already-stressful situation. Now more than ever is the time to support your store teams. Frequent communication will help managers and associates know they are valued.
2. Which stores should be reopened, and when? With up to thousands of stores in their fleets, retailers will have to assess which stores make the most sense to open first, and which will need to wait. Dynamic location profiling that takes into account location attributes, geography, their products and services, and the communities they service will be critical.
3. What is the state of each store? Most stores will be in some sort of entropy from being closed for a prolonged period. Some will have reduced fixturing to allow for social distancing while others have brought in temporary fixturing like kiosks for customer service. Getting a complete picture of each store’s condition, including maintenance issues, inventory levels and promotional materials will help determine what’s needed.
4. Issue Reporting. Extended closures will cause additional issues. For example, security device batteries could be dead, demo devices like iPads and TVs might not work because they’ve been disconnected, a leak in the store needs repair, phones and electronics need to be charged. The way issues are reported from stores to HQ will vary from retailer to retailer, but this is the time to tighten up the feedback loop to ensure there’s a way to assess the needs of each store, report those needs to HQ and for HQ to respond. A process for stores to report issues or updates on items requested prior to closing will be essential.
5. Product Levels. As you prepare to reopen, do you have excess product in some categories, depletions in others, or are assortments just right? With stores that remain open during the crisis, do you have only what’s relevant and what’s needed to meet demands? You may have merchandise on order from vendors that hasn’t been processed, or previously ordered supplies backlogged in the system. This is a good time to do a cycle count to make sure your system is up-to-date and that counts are accurate.
6. Marketing & Merchandising. Do social distancing graphics need to be installed at the entrance of the store, checkout areas and other areas of the store due to the new CDC guidelines? Are the marketing materials outdated in stores leftover from before the closures? Are you showing promotions that are no longer being honored because of business considerations? Are stores reviewing their latest planograms? Products that are high in-demand like cleaning supplies, paper supplies and over-the-counter medications, do they need to be merchandised differently so only an associate can access them to help limit quantities per person? Are additional options needed for BOPIS like customers order online and pick-up curbside? Providing store associates with a list of the latest marketing, promotions, planograms and merchandising guidelines to review prior to re-opening will be key for the stores’ success and your customers.
7. Communication Channels. All these challenges require communication between HQ and stores. Simplifying methods of communication will be paramount. What communication channels are you using to get information to stores as quickly and efficiently as possible? How are you communicating directly with store associates and providing the support and materials they need? How is HQ updating campaigns that may have been delayed or cancelled? How are stores reporting compliance, inventory and maintenance issues to HQ?
These are challenging times for everyone and working in partnership with each other will only make us stronger when we come out on the other side of this crisis. As we continue to work with our retail partners, we will be providing best practice documents tailored to each of their businesses. We hope that by sharing the questions and learnings we are having from our conversations due to coronavirus, we can help get the retail community back on its feet when it’s time to reopen.
When you’re ready to open your stores again, we’ll be here for you.
The One Door Team
Scott Heyer is the Product Marketing Manager for One Door. He has worked for some great brands in the Boston market in visual merchandising from Bose Corporation to Staples. Most recently, he was the Director of Visual Merchandising for The Paper Store.