Retail Reopening: What Pandemic Changes Will Stores Maintain?

The COVID-19 pandemic drove customers out of stores and shut down businesses. It also halted the global economy. The world is slowly returning to normal, but retailers need to think strategically about how to stop temporary disruptions from becoming permanent.

We spoke to over 400 retailers to find out how they had adapted to the coronavirus outbreak and the regulations that followed. We found a group who were flexible with their strategies but also optimistic about the future. In June 2020, our Reopening Of Retail Report found that 80.5 per cent of retailers expect sales to be no worse than normal for the first 90-days, and 22 percent expect sales to rise in the next 90 days.

What does it mean for retailers to expect this optimism to translate into sales? What changes do they believe will help them? Which changes will they make to their existing processes and policies, and which will become permanent? Let’s have a closer look at the results of our research.

How retailers responded to COVID-19 Restrictions

Our total store closing rate was 51 percent, despite all the changes that retailers made. More than half of the respondents to our survey reported that their stores had closed completely for at least a short period. Given the high number of shelter-in place orders during the pandemic, this should not be surprising. Some retailers were able to remain open because they are essential businesses, but most of them spent the majority of their time closed.

Retailers don’t plan to close their stores permanently if it is possible. This makes the changes in this list more pertinent for the future. At 31 percent, the second most frequent change was partial store closing with restricted customer admission. 26 percent of stores also reduced their hours in an effort to save money.

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Retail store owners reported that 31 percent had to furlough or lay off employees between March and June due to limited numbers. Due to the limited opportunities for engagement in-store, the same percentage chose to invest more in online stores and websites.

Online investments can also lead to other sales opportunities. Our survey found that 21 percent of respondents offered curbside pickup for customers who shop online.

Surprisingly only 19% of store owners reported that they had changed their cleaning and sanitation procedures to combat the pandemic. It could be that most stores were closed or store owners thought their current cleaning methods were adequate. Customers and employees will be concerned about their health for many months, if perhaps years. Stores should clearly communicate their cleaning policies frequently.

Some stores, which were near the bottom of our list offered delivery. These could be done by either sending in internal workers (17%) or outsourcing labor (14%). Many stores use both.

Although retail owners had different responses, there are only a few best-practices that will help determine which brands sink or swim.

What COVID-19 changes will remain?

Let’s not try to answer every expectation. Instead, let us look at the most common responses and most interesting differences.

36 percent of the stores anticipate that they will remain open during normal business hours, but with a reduced number of employees per shift after the reopening. This was the most popular measure on our list. While some stores might restrict employees for health reasons, others will do so because of financial concerns or lower customer traffic. According to our survey, 31% of respondents expect to restrict the number customers allowed in at once.

31% of respondents have already decided to invest more on their websites and online stores. However, the number drops to 24% when we talk about future plans. Many stores will find it difficult to keep both an online and in-store presence as customers return.

This holds true for curbside pickup and delivery. Only 17 percent expect curbside pickup to be available during reopening, while 14 percent plan on outsourcing delivery. To determine if customers have changed their expectations regarding convenience, stores should closely monitor their industry.

Interestingly, only 19% of store owners reported having more thorough cleaning practices, but 24 percent said they would do more after the reopening. This is mainly for stores that were unable to stay open during the shutdown, but who plan to modify their policies when they return.

Our findings show that retailers realize that the world they will return to is very different from the one they left. More stores will offer new services to meet customer needs, such as curbside pickup and one-way shopping. The in-store experience is the best predictor of success. To learn more about the findings regarding the reopening retail, read the complete report.

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Walgreens will open Doctor Offices in Hundreds Of Its Stores

Walgreens Boots Alliance has announced that it will soon be able to have doctors offices within hundreds of its U.S. pharmacy stores. VillageMD will manage the clinics and staff them. They plan to open clinics in between 500 and 700 stores across the country in the next five-years. Walgreens will increase its focus on medical care, cutting costs and investing in new areas. Walgreens has closed hundreds of drugstores and laid off thousands of employees while trying new business models. Walgreens hopes to transform its drugstores into wellness and health destinations that people can spend more time in.

Total Retail’s View: Walgreens made an effort to be more than a pharmacy retailer. It is now a healthcare company. Walgreens realized that there is increasing competition in the pharmacy industry, especially online. It has decided to diversify its revenue streams and business model to increase profitability. Walgreens has partnered with many healthcare companies, including Humana, an insurer, and LabCorp to offer new services in its stores. Walgreens expanded its partnership with LabCorp to offer COVID-19 testing for customers earlier in the year. Walgreens has been recognized as a leading healthcare provider by opening physician-staffed clinics inside its stores. This allows patients to see a doctor and get a prescription for a drug right away.

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