From Friday, non-essential retailers in NI (excluding shopping centres) are allowed to throw their doors open to the public after almost 3 months in hibernation.

But what can shoppers expect?

Queues – for sure.

Limited numbers allowed in store? That’s to be expected. 

Are you allowed to touch or browse ? Unknown.

Is it going to be a queue, grab & get out of there kind of affair like food shopping has become?

What are your thoughts as a retailer or a customer about visitors picking up garment hangers and then replacing?

How will shops and retail managers manage those high frequency touch-points?

No changing rooms or option to try on, is likely in most stores.

No friend to accompany for ‘advice’.

Gone are the days (at least for now) of a girly lunch, heading to the changing rooms with an armful of possibilities, accompanied by a fashion-forward friend to offer advice on the best fit and most flattering shape.

We’ll nostalgically reflect on the days when we used to go out for the day just shopping, pottering about and aimlessly browsing a way a few hours at the weekend.

What about returns policies?

With no facilities available for trying on, are people going to buy and then return after trying on at home …will returns be accepted?

Are customers  going to be trying on in the aisles of Primark…? They did before COVID – even when there were changing facilities!

What about increasing demands on the returns desk ? In my experience it’s typically not heavily staffed – often dealt with at the normal check out area, but that will now be under increasing pressure as people ‘buy without trying’ and returns  inevitably increase – if indeed, stores accept returned goods.

And what about gift cards purchased in good faith by customers? For those that run their own gift card scheme, it should be easily remedied – and ought to be – with an automatic + 3 month addition to the use by date.

For gift card schemes operated by third parties like MasterCard and other credit providers for example, the approach to amending ‘expires by’  dates is not as clear cut.  Clarification should be sought directly with your card scheme provider as it can vary.

Retailers and (some) staff will be glad to get back to work, but there are as many questions as there are answers. 

No doubt policies will evolve, and returns procedures change  as  we find our way in this new terrain.

Retailers need to ensure these policy changes are clearly explained at till points, sign posted and included on receipts as well as on social platforms and ezines.

Clear communication and fair policies are necessary to keep your loyal customer base and nurture their confidence and they venture nervously out ‘to the shops’.  

Allow time to review and update staff regularly if policies change or evolve as we phase into reopening post COVID and allow for feedback from the ‘shop floor’.

Internal communication with your staff is a critical element of laying the path for a smooth transition.

Ensure you have given adequate time for staff to be briefed and take on board all changes – not just in relation to social distancing and hygiene  – but also in terms of handling stock and returns procedures  for example, so they can appropriately and accurately deal with customer queries.

All staff should clearly know what the customer is entitled to  – a shoulder shrug just won’t cut it.

From a customer point of view – ASK! Be informed about your rights and any changes to sales or returns policy – don’t just assume it will be as before.  Very little is.  Make sure you know what you are entitled to before you queue to make that purchase.  Welcome back to retail, but not as you know it.

Mac PR, Park Lane, Rostrevor, Co. Down BT34 3DH.

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