Christmas in July: Return to Work Considerations for Retail

Christmas in July: Return to Work Considerations for Retail

By Tricia O'Connor

Retail has a tough job. Many workers are essential. Most customers are, too, if the store wants to survive through this unforgiving pandemic to the holiday shopping season. 

That means safety is as important to retailers as GPS is to Santa’s sleigh. As more states push to re-open (some, for the second time) retail is on the frontline of protecting its employees and customers from COVID-19. Owing to their customer-facing business model, retail organizations are challenged to find successful operationalized return-to-work programs that don’t negatively impact safety or their bottom lines.

Here are four critical areas retailers can focus on to keep employees and patrons merry and safe.

Consumer Confidence

Surveys show a significant number of people are changing their shopping habits because of the coronavirus. Morning Consult reports:

  • 24% say they wouldn’t feel comfortable shopping in a mall for more than six months
  • 16% say they’d feel comfortable in three months

But many consumers also say they expect stores to enact new safety requirements, according to the National Retail Federation. The past six months have also taught us that retailers who’ve been agile and responsive have seen the most success. In response, the NRF has launched an initiative called Operation Open Doors, that provides guidelines and resources to help retailers navigate gradual reopening. The recommendations focus on four critical areas:

  • Health and safety
  • People and personnel
  • Logistics and supply chain
  • Litigation and liability

But just because you know what you should be focusing on, doesn’t mean you know how to implement it. EBI can help. We’ve combed a variety of sources – retailers, advisors, and compliance experts – and compiled several examples of return-to-work considerations that can benefit all retail organizations. Let’s get started.

1. Health and Safety

It’s important for all businesses to have a standardized protocol for being able to come to work as COVID-19 continues, but retail may need to take extra precautions because of how often its workers come into contact with customers.

A backend program like EBI’s Workplace Health & Safety Solution can take the guesswork out of how to implement a standardized return-to-work protocol. This comprehensive solution provides temperature screening, contact tracing, social distancing monitoring, and operations and risk management in accordance with CDC guidelines, all in one platform known as the HR Command Center.

Having a risk mitigation and health screening solution in a complete suite helps optimize employee and customer safety while maintaining business operations. You want a program that not only provides easy to follow instructions and guidelines for employees, but also delivers real-time data and information to management. This helps retailers operate as seamlessly as possible while maintaining top-tier safety standards to protect employees and customers.

2. People and Personnel

On the front end, retailers may want to consider occupancy control, capacity threshold, and queue management guidelines (if they’re not already doing so). Retail businesses need to manage the number of visitors inside to help maintain physical distancing and people flow. They also need to manage employee flow, whether on the floor or on a break. People flow guidelines are particularly relevant in spaces where occupancy rates fluctuate – entryways, restrooms, stock rooms, break rooms, stores, and offices.

These physical distancing measures may have started as temporary fixes to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but many of them may become permanent adaptations. Retailers require accurate and immediate people counting, and it’s safest if it’s automated. Using a digital display to provide guidance to customers on when it’s safe to enter or proceed, keeps them and employees safe, and provides management real-time alerts if thresholds are met or distancing guidelines are violated.

3. Logistics and Supply Chain

Automation also plays a key role in leveraging data to drive decision making. Kroger, one of the nation’s leading grocery retailers, has made public its journey managing business operations and employee and customer safety during the pandemic. In ‘Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Business’, the grocery giant shares the extensive measures it’s taken across its business throughout the pandemic. The document is regularly revised as Kroger continues to learn from and respond to the coronavirus.

One of the biggest takeaways that can translate to any retail organization is Kroger’s deft use of data to make informed decisions. The retailer created and implemented an enterprise dashboard that collects information from its 35-state footprint to help identify where resources are most needed, and to monitor return-to-work efforts. While Kroger had its own digital team to launch this dashboard, the grocer offers these tips to retailers who may need to DIY:

  • Define the business questions you need answers to, then prioritize them
  • Launch your tool even if it’s not perfect; evolve and refine over time
  • Safeguard data privacy
  • Consider your collection method and impact on accuracy
  • Create a plan to share data with leadership

4. Litigation and Liability

Regardless of what return-to-work options you consider, retailers must remain in compliance with the current (and evolving) laws. While most employees understand the need for safety measures like temperature screening, they still may have concerns about confidentiality, privacy, and anti-discrimination protections. It’s your job as their employer to legally adhere to any employee workplace protections.

Under recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and CDC guidance, retailers have the right to permit widespread testing because COVID-19 creates a sufficient risk. As a result, employers may ask certain disability-related inquiries and require certain medical testing during the COVID-19 pandemic without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s critical to review updated general business guidance from the CDC so you always remain compliant with the law and maintain best practices.

Looking Ahead

Retailers who blend online and offline channels will likely show the most resilience weathering this pandemic economy. E-commerce will be increasingly necessary to gain a competitive edge, as will ‘buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS).

Adobe Analytics reports BOPIS orders surged 208% year-over-year in April. The driving force, says Retail Dive, is the proliferation of curbside delivery, which answers customers’ needs for contactless fulfillment.

Moving forward into the 2020 holiday shopping season, Inc. reports retailers should maximize occupancy control and flow, hire more curbside delivery staffers, stock products that align with social distancing, and expect more returned merchandise.

Optimize with EBI

Our goal at EBI is to support your business goals with valuable knowledge, tools, and insight. From return-to-work health and safety programs to background screening, we have a full suite of solutions to optimize your business.

Call or email us to let us know how we can help improve the overall quality of your operations. ‘Tis the season to shop safe!

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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