As apparel retail prepares to open its doors again, phased store reopenings hinge on a safe shopping environment for both employees and customers. In response to concerns related to store, fitting-room and fulfillment center safety, Checkpoint Systems has released Inventory Quarantine (IQ), a Software-as-a-Service solution that allows retailers to assign returned stock to an automated quarantine “holding area” for a number of hours, removing items from visibility to customers both online and in stores.
IQ, which can operate standalone or integrated with an existing store management system, adheres to government guidelines consistent with the lifespan of COVID-19 on garments and packaging, and is designed to help retailers process returns, releasing items only when deemed safe for resale to minimize health risks.
The solution uses software to identify returned items in fulfillment centers, stores and merchandise from fitting rooms, initiating a virtual “quarantine clock.” Once activated, the items remain in a retailer’s designated “safe area” until the assigned quarantine period is completed. A push notification is then sent to employees notifying them that items are safe for resale.
Citing Adobe Analytics stats that online apparel sales have increased 34 percent during the pandemic, Checkpoint notes that the revenue increase will lead to a rise on the already high 30 percent to 40 percent return rate of clothes and shoes, posing logistical issues for retailers that are implementing a quarantine on returned items.
Seeing as brick-and-mortar apparel retailers are starting to reopen their doors, customers can begin returning items in person rather than via mail, creating further uncertainty over potential contamination of merchandise in stores. According to data from reverse logistics firm Optoro, two-thirds of shoppers typically prefer to return purchases directly to a store. But during store closures, shoppers often didn’t have this option, leading them to either mail items in or wait until brick-and-mortar locations reopened.
The introduction of more merchandise in the store gets even more complex as retailers figure out how they will determine which items shoppers can try on, especially since 65 percent of women and 54 percent of men say they will not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms, according to a survey from First Insight.
As they reopen, apparel retailers are approaching fitting rooms differently. Gap Inc. is one retailer temporarily closing fitting rooms as it begins reopening stores, while Nordstrom is among the many retailers modifying them to reduce density and maintain social distancing.
Macy’s, upon reopening, is only keeping a select few fitting rooms open at a given time, which are sanitized frequently. European retailer Mango, which is working to open 1,700 stores up by June 2, will open fitting rooms upon request, follow limited capacity restrictions and clean them after use.
All four of these retailers have already announced plans to quarantine items for a set period of time after they’ve been taken into a dressing room.
Japanese apparel giant Uniqlo reopened stores in Thailand on May 17 in accordance with government regulations. Not only does the fashion retailer check customer temperatures at the entrance of its Thai stores and provide face coverings for consumers who visit fitting rooms but it is also disinfecting tried-on clothing with UV-C sanitation devices, which use ultraviolet light to kill any pathogens that might linger on a garment.
Meanwhile, Mixology, a women’s wear brand operating 10 stores in the greater New York City area, is using biotech sanitation company ViaClean Technologies’s Bioprotect Us System to treat store counters and other surfaces. Viaclean says its proprietary technology is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency and is Federal Drug Administration compliant, and creates a 90-day “protective shield” against microbes.
In a remarkably short period of time, “the shopping experience we have grown to know is dramatically changing,” said Phil Fisher, director of product management at Checkpoint Systems.
“Retailers implementing new processes demonstrate they’re keeping people safe will undoubtedly be seen favorably by shoppers,” he added. “Returns and fitting rooms have always presented a huge challenge to retailers. COVID-19 has compounded this challenge even further. Shoppers who use dressing rooms are 70 percent more likely to buy, so it’s important to get them safely opened as quickly as possible. Inventory Quarantine enables retailers to do just that and will ensure stores minimize the financial impact.”
The Checkpoint IQ solution is part of a larger suite of Safer Shopping automated solutions that are technology agnostic and designed to help retailers introduce effective health and safety measures and ultimately instill confidence in both employees and consumers as they return to the stores.