More brick and mortar retailers will start reopening, once people feel safe to go inside | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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More brick and mortar retailers will start reopening, once people feel safe to go inside

A sign on a downtown Vernon business.

Unlike other provinces, B.C. did not order retail stores to shut down – only businesses like salons and tattoo parlours. But it was provincial health officer's calls for people to stay home that forced many business owners to close their doors.

“The reason that many of the stores closed was simply because there were no customers in their stores,” Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, told today, April 28. “Until public health authorities are confident that people can start going out again and respect social distancing and are safe to move around, businesses will be challenged to reopen.”

Brisebois is working with the federal and provincial governments, and observing what’s going on in other countries to find safe ways to reopen retail sector businesses. When it does reopen, it’s going to be a different shopping experience.

Saskatchewan, for example, is looking at reopening retailers on May 19 but at this point it says people will not be able to try on clothing or use change rooms. Brisebois is trying to get them to change their minds on that.

“If you’re an apparel retailer your customer usually walks into the store and she wants to try on clothing and she wants to use the change room and she may also want to return the merchandise,” she said. “What we’re trying to develop with the retailer is these guidelines and best practices on how that is to be done and to keep both customers and staff safe.”

The parking lot outside Winners in Penticton is empty on April 7, 2020. parking lot, Penticton. 4:10 p.m. April 7, 2020.
The parking lot outside Winners in Penticton is empty on April 7, 2020. parking lot, Penticton. 4:10 p.m. April 7, 2020.

That includes things like redesigning stores so safe distancing can be maintained, cutting down on the number of change rooms that are open and the number of customers in the stores, along with the usual cleaning protocols.

It may also mean that clothing or shoes that have been tried on by a customer and not purchased will be set aside for a period of days before going back on the shelves, as is done in places like South Korea.

It likely also means thinning out stock in the stores so people aren’t brushing up against the merchandise.

“You will see more airy stores – more open so customers don’t feel they don’t have enough space to move around,” Brisebois said. “It will have an impact on inventory, how much is on the store floor, how much is kept in the back room, how much is ordered.”

It’s not just the shop owners who have been impacted by COVID-19. The whole supply chain – wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers – has been disrupted and some of those businesses will not survive, so product selection will likely change.

Brisebois pointed out that retail is more than clothing and shoe stores. People want to test drive cars, try on jewelry and put their hands on big ticket items before they buy, so all businesses will be affected.

Online shopping accounted for about seven per cent of sales in Canada before COVID-19 and sales are expected to double by the end of the year.

“Do we believe it will represent the chunk of spending by consumers?” Brisebois asked. “No. We still believe that consumers will want to socialize, will want to go in malls, will want to go in stores. The question will be, what will those stores look like?"

“There is no question there will be additional signage. There probably will be some best practices that are currently used in grocery stores, for example, that will be adapted in non-essential retail stores. There will definitely be stricter rules with regards to the number of people in the store. So that will mean there may be customers waiting outside. It may be there will be retailers who sell based on appointment. There are so many different alternatives that are being looked at and tested and nothing, yet, that is final.”

With Saskatchewan already announcing a date to start reopening stores, along with Ontario and Quebec announcing tiered reopenings, Brisebois is expecting more provinces to follow suit this week.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has made it clear that B.C. will take its time to make sure any reopening is done safely and has refused to give potential dates.

“If you look at, for example, the first phase that Ontario has put out, we have not closed businesses in the same ways that they have there,” Henry said during her COVID-19 update yesterday, April 27. “We already have people going outside. We already have essential businesses that are working – our construction businesses. And we have put in place the guidance that people need to safely manage those businesses.

“We will be looking at the ones that we did shut down and coming out with more details around how they can give us their ideas. I don’t know all the ins and outs of every different business. What I’m providing is what we need to do to be able to open up safely.”

The retail world shoppers will return to, however, will likely be changed forever.

“I think the experience of COVID has made everybody more aware of flu or any related disease that can be easily transmitted,” Brisebois with the Retail Council of Canada said. “I think that is going to be engrained and is going be a part of our social behaviour. Does that mean that everyone is going to be wearing masks? Probably not. But, certainly, people – both businesses and customers – are going to be much more aware and much more cautious.”

For more information on what safety precautions stores are likely to take, go here and scroll down to "What can I do as a retailer to create the safest possible COVID-19 work environment for my employees."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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