It’s going to take time for shoppers to truly feel like a store visit is a normal, safe experience they can embark on in their daily lives. As many as 71 percent of American consumers say they would not feel very comfortable shopping in a physical retail store over the next three months, according to a survey from Nationwide YouGov and SafetyCulture.
Another survey from The Valley, an outdoor shopping center based in the U.K., recognized that for the most part, shoppers across the country feel the same about store safety—50 percent of all Brits are unlikely to step foot in a shopping center for at least three months. Thus far, these consumers are put off shopping by factors such as overcrowding (66 percent), long queues (55 percent) and continuing anxieties over social distancing (54 percent) since shops have begun reopening after lockdown.
At the same time, 57 percent of the nearly 1,200 shoppers surveyed in the U.S. say that businesses making a real-time list of cleaning and disinfecting activities completed hourly throughout the day public would increase their trust and confidence in that business.
Additionally, 53 percent of Americans said businesses that publicly display a list of daily safety procedures being undertaken in its public areas, with the completion status publicly shown, would also increase trust and confidence.
In a way, not much has changed regarding consumer sentiment since the pandemic’s peak in April, when just 33 percent of respondents said they would feel safe shopping in a mall and 37 percent said they would feel safe shopping in a department store, according to First Insight. The firm also found that 65 percent of women and 54 percent of men said they wouldn’t feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms.
The U.S.-based research was released as part of the SafetyCulture Safely Back to Business initiative, a program designed to support companies globally at a time when safety has become the world’s top business priority. The company has digitized guidance from governments and other industries into fully customizable checklists. The more than 100,000 checklist templates are currently available online to support businesses in their efforts to protect customers and staff from exposure to COVID-19.
Another industry advisory firm, Cambridge Retail Advisors, created an informational seven-step “Store Restart Guide” that outlines what retailers must do to reopen stores quickly and safely. In addition to reviewing state and local government guidelines, retailers must validate the condition of the property and the proper functioning of all utilities, network services and security systems. Next, they will have to rehire and train employees based on needs of reopening of stores and establish store sanitization and social distancing processes and policies.
Cambridge also recommends that retailers test and prepare store and corporate technologies that haven’t been running consistently in months. After that, store operators should also review inventory management status and processes, such as conducting a full store inventory cycle including the inspection of floor merchandise. Finally, retailers must communicate store openings, new store hours and social distancing policies to customers.
Ensuring safety may not just be about following through on cleaning checklists or adhering to best practice guides. Retailers must adopt the right tone when communicating to shoppers so that safety measures are incorporated into the overall brand experience instead of being conveyed only through intimidating signs that do more to amplify than allay consumer fears.
The rebound in certain areas has been successful so far. In the first two weeks since most of its shops reopened, The Valley recorded 80 percent of the foot traffic and 90 percent of the total shopper spend compared that it generated in the same two weeks of last year, showing encouraging signs of recovery.
“Our strong sales figures show the love for shopping in person is still very much alive and well,” said Phil Maclean, retail director for The Valley. “Outdoor centers can shape the ‘new normal’ of shopping.
“With plenty of space between shops, large outdoor spaces to take a break, free and easy parking plus good crowd management to avoid large queues and overcrowding,” he added, “it’s easy to see why people prefer this environment to crowded city center malls.”
The Valley, which surveyed 2,000 U.K. consumers, found that fresh air (61 percent of shoppers), more space to keep to social distancing guidelines (50 percent), and wider walkways between shops (41 percent) all appealed to what shoppers want out of a brick-and-mortar shopping experience.
Despite the positivity, 61 percent of British shoppers still voicing concerns about the future of shopping centers, with three-quarters saying they worry more now than they did pre-lockdown. The anxieties stem from valid concerns after Intu Properties, one of the U.K.’s largest shopping center operators, fell into administration in June. Intu, like its major shopping real estate counterparts in the U.K. including Hammerson, have struggled as cash-strapped tenant retailers defer payments and seek rent cuts for the future after being forced to stay closed for three months. Intu CEO Matthew Roberts stepped down from his post a week after the shopping mall operator collapsed into insolvency, according to local media reports.
Intu, which carried $5.8 billion in debt, told investors that it expected 2020’s rent collection to drop to £310 million ($380.4 million) from £492 million ($603.8 million) a year earlier. Hammerson, in a similar quandary, has £2.8 billion ($3.52 billion) in net debt and said it received 37 percent of the rent it was owed in the second quarter.