The Quagmire of Reopening Retail Stores And Rebuilding Trust

reopening retail stores and building trust

build trust in retailWhile many retailers are focused on just getting their stores open, there is a lot of work that must be done to rebuild shoppers’ trust. Otherwise, retailing will be an awkward, complex, and messy situation - a quagmire.

Every time the trains ran on schedule, every time we got a tax refund, every time one of our kids graduated from school, and every time we as a nation got through a natural disaster, we knew that our government - with its efficiency, regularity, and certainty - was responsible.

Our trust grew.

Every time we got a delivery on time, found the item we wanted in-stock, or had a wealth of choices in a store, our trust in retailers grew too.

But since March 10, when it all went south and our trust shattered in how the world worked, how safe we were against disease, and how resilient our economy was, we began to question the safety of getting on a plane, walking into a mall, taking the subway, hugging a friend, going on vacation, or going to a sports event.

Our trust is broken.

Peg Streep wrote in Psychology Today, “Trust is the foundation of all human connections, from chance encounters to friendships and intimate relationships. It governs all the interactions we have with each other. Culture, civilization, and community all depend on such trust.”

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Shopping in stores, going to work with colleagues, going to church or a sporting event all built those gossamer threads of trust between people. That’s how we’ve always formed community and solidarity to meet the future head-on.

Now, with 90% of Americans hunkered down at home, we find we are vulnerable on many levels from our health, our livelihoods, and even from our own families.

You are going to have to care for all these people when they return to your stores. The old, untrained way of asking customers what they want then showing them, what I call asked-and-answered retailing, won’t work.

You are going to have to nurture a wary public untrusting of most everyone.

Some of them will be emboldened to share every perceived violation of their own attitude about the virus on social media, I saw a supermarket bagger without a mask! I saw a man fill his car with gas with his bare hands!

Pandemic Shaming

Cops were called to a coffeehouse in Texas from an anonymous tipster who said they were allowing people to sit in the dining room. It was bogus as the coffeehouse had removed seats weeks prior. But the officers still had to check it out.

A New York apparel retailer, working in her store alone, cracked her front door a bit to let in some air when a woman walked by and yelled, “You are supposed to be closed,” and posted a pic on social media.

If retailers and restaurants have to fear vigilantes believing the false equation of you’re either voting to save lives or voting to save the economy, those vigilantes are setting society up for failure once the businesses fully reopen. There are going to be so many challenges on the road to new normal that businesses will have no time to deal with outside, angry judgements.

Why are these people ranting in judgement? It’s because our trust has been broken.


Reopening businesses must be determined by data and by doctors - no ifs, ands, or buts. Retailers can only reopen when the health conditions are right and with effective safeguards and protocols in place.

And with store traffic down to a crawl when you reopen, you’ll have to approach your business as if you were starting anew and take every small sale, inquiry, or conversation as a gift.

And make no mistake, you have to stay focused on planning to reopening your stores, whenever that happens. And here’s why…

The Biggest Retailers Have Gotten Enormous

Before March 10, smaller retailers were struggling to compete with the likes of Walmart, Target, and Amazon.  All three of those giants have been able to stay open while most all of the competition had to close, giving those giants an unfair advantage.

Data analytics firm 1010data reports “Walmart's online grocery sales hit $900 million, which doubled what it posted during the same period last year.” Consumer spending on Amazon is up 35 percent from the same period last year, according to Facteus. Target announced that sales through much of March were up 20 percent over last year.

Shoppers have been able to go into Wal-Mart to buy sewing supplies, but they can't do the same at the local sewing store. People are buying all sorts of things at these big stores because they have no other choice, and therefore, the Wal-Marts and the Targets are thriving while small businesses are being crippled.

Some states have tried to stop this trend by noting what are and are not essential items which have led to paint aisles being roped off, which garnered lots of social media wrath.

Yes, people are shopping online and small businesses can still sell online as well, but people can go into any place that sells any type of groceries and also browse for kids’ clothes, home decor, books, etc.

When all businesses are able to reopen, you will be on a more level playing field. At that time, it will be up to you to market in a way that is more nimble, authentic, and helpful than any big box.

So here is how you should go about rebuilding the trust of your customers and nurturing them whenever the reopening of retail stores happens in your area.

Preparing to nurture and rebuild trust

People need to feel safe and welcome in your store.

Before you open, you’ll need to buy:

  •   Masks for your employees
  •   Infrared thermometer
  •   Gloves for your employees
  • Commercial hand sanitizer stations

Before you open, you’ll need to:

  • Widen your aisles so people can pass while comfortably socially distancing themselves or make your store one-way only.
  • Install plexiglass sneeze guards between cashiers and the public.
  • Have controlled employee shifts so you aren’t mixing different workers on different shifts. That way, if one person on that one shift gets exposed, it doesn’t potentially require shutting down your entire store.
  • Train your employees how to engage shoppers while all are wearing masks.
  • Role-play with employees about how to avoid asking shoppers what they are looking for and instead invite them to explore your store.

When you open, you’ll want to:

  • Reduce your hours.
  • Schedule appointments to shop to limit the number of people in your store.
  • Monitor employee health with infrared thermometers.
  • Have all employees wear masks and gloves at all times for the foreseeable future.

To make shoppers feel cared for, you will have to give them something online can’t…a feeling.

Shopping online has always been fast, frictionless, and price-driven. We go online to buy; we go into a store to shop.

When those first early-adopters as I call them venture out to see your store, you will have to care for them in ways both small and large. You’ll have to open the door for them, carry their purchases to their car if they want you to, find things you have in common to begin to build their trust accounts and deliver on the promise of hope, all while isolating them from the doom and gloom in your neighborhood.

At  any time that might seem like a tall order, but now it may feel like a Herculean feat when you are already worried about how soon your shoppers will return.

But you have to push on to find hope like you’ve done a hundred other times - like when you saw the risks but went ahead and were rewarded or when you didn’t see the risks but things changed for the better in ways you never expected, and when you simply felt glad watching the sun rise.

That’s what you need to bring to the table when you reopen - hope - not a 70% off friends and family sale. 

Just hope.

See also, 10 Reasons I’m Optimistic About Retail After COVID-19

 In Sum

While reopening retail stores is a quagmire of decisions not just for now but conceivably for the next many months, one thing is for sure…

The asked and answered retailer isn’t going to survive in 2021. What will be needed?

Shoppers will need to be cared for, not waited on.

See more about coronavirus retailing here:

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