Creating confidence in a retail shop

28 September 2020

Roger Cawood has advice for retail outlets opening up as they come to terms with life after lockdown in the Covid-19 era

Now that the first steps in the process of lifting the lockdown are well under way, businesses need to be very much aware of the apprehension and uncertainty felt by those who, for the first time in three or four months, are contemplating venturing into retail environments.

While this will hold no fears for most of the younger generation, for many older members of society the prospect of entering closed (as opposed to open air) retail public areas may be viewed as a potentially high-risk activity. Bear in mind It is now a Government requirement and a legal obligation that all retail outlets carry out a specific Covid-19 Risk Assessment which must, of course, encompass the activities of both staff and customers within the shop. Readers are strongly advised to consult the Government website at and search for ‘Working safely during Covid-19 in shops and branches’.

Due to the scarcity of PPE. there has, in my view, been a reluctance to advise the public with regard to the wearing of face masks, but the need to safeguard, reassure and gain the confidence of the public has now led to masks being mandatory on public transport and in hospitals. However, following the latest research, the WHO has now advised that all those over 60 with underlying health issues (and my guess is that many, if not the vast majority, will have) should wear a medical grade mask where social distancing may be uncertain while at the same time advising that this mainly affords protection to others. I believe this advice has implications for cleaners, who in the absence of Government legislation in relation to retail will need to decide whether, in the interests of the older generation, to ask/require all customers to wear a mask before entering the shop.

Recently in the UK it hasbecome mandatory for all those visiting closed retail outlets to wear face coverings which would seem a common-sense precaution, but was resited for some time. Since the start of the outbreak there has been considerable research covering the use of face masks. While this appears to have confirmed that the benefit to the wearer is limited, if everyone wears a mask the risk of cross infection could be reduced by up to 90%.

Feedback from the industry now indicates that cleaners across the board have suffered major reductions in turnover varying between 80% at best right up to a loss of 95% on pre-lockdown levels, so we really do have to work hard to restore confidence. Having spent many years in retail drycleaning I see the wearing of masks, where distancing may be uncertain, as a fundamental first step together with the installation of acrylic screens to help regain confidence and afford the best possible protection to both staff and customers.

Bear in mind that staff are likely to be at sIgnificantly greater risk from customers than customers are from staff. A high proportion of our customers are from the older generation who will need to feel safe when entering the shop. I believe many units with limited customer space should adopt a policy of one customer at a time with perhaps two in larger units with route and separation distance clearly marked.

Staff need to be seen to be conscious and sympathetic of customers’ apprehension and concerns by wearing face covers if and when required and using hand sanitiser between serving each customer. Sanitisers should also be available for customers, too. In particular, younger members of counter staff need to be conscious of the anxiety likely to be experienced by the older generation. If appropriate, during hot weather the door should be left open so that the handles do not have to be touched and when closed should be opened/closed by a member of staff. This may all seem very tedious but going forward every customer is vital and of course they are likely to pass on their experience to their peer group.

Bear in mind that many of our customers are likely to be very much aware of the potential infection risks in relation to clothing. Therefore, a clear and obvious approach to hygiene and cleanliness will demonstrate professionalism and consideration for the customer and in my view are key starting issues towards rebuilding confidence, remaining in business and starting to recover lost turnover. We must make our customers feel welcome, wanted and safe on our premises.

Finally, businesses will have to make some very difficult decisions which may on the one hand be seen by many as being sensible measures to ensure their safety while many others will see them as frustrating, unnecessary and a disincentive to visiting retail outlets. However, all those in retail have a duty of care towards their customers and failure to ensure a safe environment for both staff and customers in respect to Covid-19 could now lead to prosecution.

SMALL STUFF: Small retail shops will need to be extra careful about social distancing and reassuring customers, especially the older generation, that they are safe
RENDER UNTO CAESER: The author’s family heirloom, a bust of Julius Caeser, models a face mask for the purposes of illustration

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