Social distancing shops are a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has redrawn the business landscape in unforeseen ways and modern businesses are racing to adapt to a new climate. 

Perhaps no industry has been hit as hard by the pandemic as retail. Lockdown measures led to the shuttering of brick-and-mortar locations around the globe. Now, as shops begin to reopen, retailers are faced with a whole new challenge. They must ensure the safety of employees and customers by following social distancing guidelines.

But in an unpredictable world, how can retailers ensure that their shops are as safe as possible? What steps can they take to show their customers and workforce that their wellbeing is the top priority? 

Here’s a quick guide to how businesses can transform their store into a social distancing shop.

 

What is social distancing and how is it affecting businesses?

Social distancing is simply the practice of minimising contact between people in order to stop the spread of disease. European countries have adopted different social distancing guidelines or requirements. In the UK, for instance, it’s recommended that businesses redesign their stores to keep customers two metres apart, and wearing masks is mandatory.
 


To accommodate the two-metre rule, many shops have installed one-way systems for foot traffic and capped the numbers of customers allowed in the store. Some shops have even installed electronic signs that display a real-time tally of in-store customers to those queuing outside.

 

A few simple ways that shops can optimise their store layout for social distancing:

  • Reorganise their shop floors to re-think areas that create a bottleneck or places where people might gather. For instance, remove big floor displays.

  • Add markers and signage to increase awareness of social distancing measures. 

  • Use physical barriers like partitions and sneeze guards to protect the staff, especially in high-traffic areas like checkout counters.

  • Limit lifts to one family at a time.
     

To safeguarding employee health, businesses should: 

  • Keep a good stock of PPE

  • Optimise their shift scheduling to avoid congestion

  • Introduce contact-tracing tools like those offered by Work.com
     

These are all good methods for minimising risk. But some businesses are going even further.

 

Social distancing shops and the world of contactless engagement

According to our research, 62% of respondents say that they want stores to have social distancing measures already in place when they visit. Many businesses have already changed into social distancing shops. Some have even shifted towards contactless engagement strategies to completely digitise the user experience.
 


These experiences prioritise the wellness of customers and employees. They can also help businesses provide faster and more efficient service.

 

Three ways that businesses are maintaining contactless engagement

1. Offer curbside service or a click-and-collect option

Curbside service enables customers to shop without ever leaving their cars which includes:

Some shops have even gone entirely dark. When a shop goes ‘dark’, it means that they’ve turned their stores into customer-free distribution centres that offer curbside service.

With click-and-collect services, customers can minimise the time they spend inside the shop and the amount of people they come into contact with. They can simply place an order and collect it from a designated area near the store’s entrance.

 

2. Install self-service checkout

A number of companies transitioned towards self-service checkout well before the pandemic hit. And now social distancing measures have only reinforced the utility of the idea. Self-service checkouts help protect employees who can use mobile devices to answer queries and provide service.

Some companies have gone beyond self-service checkouts and have installed self-service return kiosks. Amazon offers self-service lockers for customers to collect online orders with a code. Contactless self-service shopping is not only safer, it’s often more efficient.

 

3. Supplement the brick-and-mortar store with digital experiences

The digital imperative is here and businesses are turning to new solutions to keep up with their customers. For many companies, this will be a completely transformative shift, rather than a quick fix to address social distancing.
 


Some forward-thinking businesses have jumped into the digital domain with both feet, offering:

  • AR and VR experiences

  • Virtual concierge and stylist services

  • Real-time engagement across different channels

 

What’s next for retailers?

These have been challenging times for retailers, but the ones who adapt and offer their customers a better, safer way of doing business will thrive. Relationships are built on trust after all, so businesses that communicate with their customers in an empathetic way — and put their health front and centre — will be well on their way towards building stronger connections.

For safety-first businesses and their customers, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship — from two metres away. To see more solutions for tackling challenges in the current landscape, check out our Retail Playbook


Get all the tools you need for creating a safer workplace by visiting the Command Center on Work.com.